Hardesty steps into limelight

With LaMarcus Coker's future clouded by an indefinite suspension, fellow sophomore Montario Hardesty suddenly qualifies as one of the key members of Tennessee's offensive football team.

Hardesty finished spring practice as the No. 3 tailback behind projected starter Arian Foster and Coker. With Coker out of the equation – at least temporarily – Montario Hardesty finds himself with a beefier role for 2007. That's especially true if the coaching staff honors its verbal commitment to run the ball more this fall.

"We did a lot more running and live drills in the spring," Hardesty said. "I think we have more of a running mentality, and I'm hoping that's going to happen."

Although Vol teammates say he would rather ran over you than around you, Hardesty disputes that characterization.

"I would much rather run around you," he said with a smile, "but I've been breaking a lot of tackles ever since I was playing Pop Warner ball. I don't know where the mentality came from but that's something I've always been able to do."

Although the 6-0, 205-pounder lacks the breakaway speed of Coker, he is a more powerful north/south type of back who was listed ahead of Coker on the depth chart for much of the 2006 season.

Hardesty opened last fall as the No. 2 tailback and broke a 43-yard touchdown in the opener vs. California. With Foster hurt, he came off the bench to carry 19 times for 73 yards in Game 2 vs. Air Force. He started Games 3 and 4 vs. Florida and Marshall before surrendering the first-team job to Coker.

Hardesty reclaimed the first-team job for Games 10 and 11 against Arkansas and Vanderbilt, then started the Outback Bowl against Penn State. He finished 2006 as Tennessee's second-leading rusher with 384 yards. He scored touchdowns in each of his first four games and caught six passes for 54 yards.

Asked recently what he brings to the lineup, Hardesty replied: "I think I bring leadership. I know what I'm doing. As a runner I think I bring a lot to the table. I'm just trying to make plays whenever I'm in there."

A team player in the truest sense, Hardesty is not concerned about individual yards or touchdowns.

"My team goal is to win the SEC East and go to the Championship Game," he said. "I don't set individual goals. I just want to perform better than I did last year."

Hardesty should perform better than last year because he should be healthier than last year. Although he played in every 2006 game, he battled an assortment of injuries all season. After sitting out most of spring practice, he believes he's 100 percent heading into 2007.

"I'm healthy now, so I want to get my just due," he said. "I've got a year under my belt, so I want to perform better than I did last year and do what I can to help the team win."

Picking up the slack in Coker's absence would be a great start.

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