Tough tailback

It takes more than a few injuries to stop Tennessee's top tailback. It usually takes more than a few opposing defenders to stop him, too.

A lot of college backs have more speed than Montario Hardesty but few have more heart and determination than the 6-0, 215-pound Vol senior. He plays hard even when he's playing hurt ... which is pretty often.

"He's gotten banged up in games, and he's usually out for a couple of plays, then he comes right back in," head coach Lane Kiffin said. "He's really been a warrior. He's really fought through injuries."

Hardesty started Tennessee's first eight games but may give way to freshman Bryce Brown for tonight's homecoming game against Memphis. The Vols would like to give Hardesty's injured knee some added time to heal as they look ahead to next weekend's crucial SEC game at Ole Miss.

"His knee's not very healthy," Kiffin said. "He is banged up but he fights through it. He's really valuable. Every time he goes out, by the time the trainer gets to me to tell me he's out, he's back in. That speaks for him."

Hardesty is one of the most inspiring stories in recent Vol football history. A knee injury forced him to redshirt as a true freshman in 2005 and an assortment of other injuries limited him to backup duty behind Arian Foster in '06, '07 and '08.

With his body reasonably healthy and Foster in the NFL, Hardesty is finally getting a chance to showcase his skills this fall. Clearly, he is making the most of the opportunity. He's averaging 105.1 yards per game and 5.1 yards per carry. He has scored nine of Tennessee's 28 offensive touchdowns - eight rushing and one receiving.

Vol offensive linemen cherish Hardesty. They love the way he hits a hole quickly and aggressively. They love the way he follows his blocks and finds his cuts. They love the way he keeps driving forward, getting every inch he can out of each carry.

"It's definitely encouraging," senior guard Cory Sullins said. "We all say on the sidelines that we'd go to war with him any day."

Hardesty isn't flashy as a rule but he made an exception last Saturday vs. South Carolina. Taking a handoff at the Vol 14-yard line, he eluded a Gamecock tackler with a spectacular spin move at the 10-yard line and scored untouched.

"When he makes a move like he did Saturday or runs over somebody, it just gets us all real fired up," Sullins said. "It makes us want to do everything we can so he can excel. He's been a lot of fun to block for."


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