Hardesty healthy at last

One Tennessee tailback's career can be divided into two distinct segments – the times he played hurt and the times he didn't play at all.

Montario Hardesty is eager to change that. After missing spring practice with yet another injury – a stress fracture – he's healthy ... and hoping to stay that way for a while. In an effort to keep him healthy, Tennessee's coaches will be limiting his practice reps when preseason drills begin Aug. 2.

"That's going to be a good deal," said Hardesty, a 6-0, 210-pound junior from New Bern, N.C. "I'm going to continue to push during camp but I definitely want to come into the season healthy and show what I can do when healthy."

The tone of Hardesty's college career was set early. As a freshman in 2005 he impressed UT's coaches in preseason scrimmages but tore an ACL after playing in just two games. He played in all 13 games of 2006 – starting two – but injuries limited him to 107 carries and 384 yards.

Hardesty's health failed him again last fall. After missing Games 3 and 4 due to leg and ankle problems, he bounced back to rush for 68 yards in Game 5 at Georgia and a career-high 78 yards in Game 6 at Mississippi State. After being mysteriously withheld from Game 7 at Alabama, he played sparingly in Games 8 and 9, but got a career-best 20 carries in Game 10 vs. Arkansas. Another injury sidelined him for the SEC Championship Game vs. LSU but he bounced back to carry seven times for 35 yards in the Outback Bowl vs. Wisconsin.

Although he played in 10 of 14 games last season, Hardesty says the stress fracture that forced him to sit out spring practice was with him all of last fall.

"I had a little stress fracture that was in all the papers," he said, "but I think I had that all during the season. I just kept playing on it."

Once considered a big-time running back prospect, Hardesty has seen his playing time and his production severely limited by physical problems. To his credit, he refuses to complain, although he admits the health setbacks were discouraging.

"It was disappointing at the time," he said. "But you've got to find some way to push the bad out. If you dwell on it, that's not going to do any good.

"I'm past all that. I've had a lot of injuries but I'm not even thinking about that; I'm healthy now, and I'm staying healthy this football season."

A lot of fans wonder how much Hardesty might've contributed if he'd been injury free the past three years. He wonders, too, but he'd rather focus on the future than the past.

"I feel everything happens for a reason," he said. "The hardships I went through early, I just want to put that all behind me and focus on having a great season this year."

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