Down time's hard on Hardesty

Life is pretty simple for one Tennessee tailback: When he's running, he's smiling. When he's recuperating, he's frowning.

After two weeks spent rehabbing a nagging ankle sprain, Vol sophomore Montario Hardesty is running and smiling again these days. He should be full-speed when Tennessee hosts Georgia Oct. 6.

"I've been rehabbing real hard," he said following Tuesday's practice. "Today there was nothing hindering me. Cutting didn't hurt or anything like that. I feel 100 percent better than I had been feeling. I'll definitely be ready to go (vs. Georgia). I practiced the whole day today."

Hardesty said he's operating at "about 90 percent," adding: "I've still got to get myself back in shape. But, as far as cutting and stuff like that, everything's fine."

The ankle was healthy enough for him to suit up for Game 4 last Saturday against Arkansas State. Head coach Phillip Fulmer informed Hardesty during warm-ups, however, that he would not see action in the game.

Although he was initially disappointed, Hardesty said he eventually accepted the idea that he would"watch from the sidelines, try to stay positive and root for my teammates."

Fulmer said he was "very, very pleased" with Hardesty's practice performance on Tuesday, adding: "I don't want him doing too much this week. I want him all the way back and ready to go Monday. But it was good to see him out here full-speed."

Hardesty seemed to have a really bright future when he reported to the Vols as a true freshman in August of 2005. He suffered a torn ACL four games into the season, however, and has been battling assorted injuries ever since.

"He has fought through two knee surgeries and other ankle injuries," Fulmer noted. "You don't like to see a young man have to keep going through the same thing."

The latest injury was particularly frustrating. The healing process took much longer than expected.

"He was really down last week because he wanted to play," Fulmer recalled. "He wanted to get back and he wasn't sure that there wasn't something else going on. It took a long time to heal up a pretty significant ankle injury."

Now that Hardesty is healthy, the Vols have a logjam at tailback. Junior Arian Foster has started the first four games. Sophomore LaMarcus Coker is coming off a 101-yard rushing performance. Freshman Lennon Creer has shown impressive potential. Where does Hardesty fit in exactly?

Fulmer's reply: "He gives us a good player that is mature and tough and has played in big ball games."


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