Hardegree Has Head Start On UT's Offense

There were a number of good reasons Tennessee decided to offer Jackson Merry-Central quarterback Bo Hardegree a scholarship over several higher rated prospects, not the least of which was the mastery he displayed last season running an attack that's built upon UT's offensive platform.

The Cougars use a multiple formation scheme that features pre-snap reads, sight adjustments and checkoffs. It's not nearly as complex as the Vols version, but it's based on the same principle and employs many of the same looks.

"We are complicated from the standpoint of high school ball as compared to a lot of people because we're going to throw the ball," said Central-Merry head coach Jim Hardegree (Bo's father). "I know there's some schools where that's all they do, but around here teams don't do that as much. We use all formations from one back to three back, we use motion, we shift people."

It was young Hardegree's job to not only get the team in and out of the huddle, but to make adjustments after seeing how the defense was aligned.

Coach Hardegree explained how it works.

"We always had an opposite call, which for several of our things we option and check off. For instance, a very simple one: if we had a trap with a one technique and three technique we want to trap the three. If we're running the counter we want to run it toward the one, that sort of thing.

"Throwing the ball we had our bread and butter play which was our naked play off the counter; everybody runs it. Bo would count people on this side, count people on that side and if we're good to go, go. If we're not, we go the other way. Sometimes we would sight adjust on the line where if we were running a hitch route, we would automatically change it from week to week where if they're pressing on us we'd go slant or we'd go fade."

Coach Hardegree brought the offense to Central-Merry with him when he took over the head coaching position in 2000, but he didn't get it installed until Bo was a junior in 2001. As a sophomore, Hardegree had to play with the JV squad in accordance to transfer rules. Daniel Brooks also played JV ball that year for the same reason. Losing the opportunity to run the offense as a sophomore, meant Bo had to learn on the job as a junior. That year of experience paid off last year when he completed 63 percent of his passes for 1,950 yards with 23 touchdowns and only six interceptions.

"The mental part of the game as far as recognizing defenses, knowing where to throw the ball, i thought he improved a lot," said Coach Hardegree. "I guess you could say over the years, but especially between his junior and senior years."

Bo attended the Manning quarterback camp in Hammond, La., last summer to improve his technique and fundamentals, but most of the improvement was due to seasoning and game experience.

"It's the type of offense where the quarterback had to learn a lot," said Coach Hardegree. "We went on different cadences, we do run shotgun sometimes. A lot of people spread the field to throw the ball, but we spread the field to run the ball."

If that sounds familiar it's because it's basically the same approach Tennessee takes on offense. The Cougars ran a balanced attack that was 53 percent run and 47 percent pass last season.

"Tennessee runs a lot of the same thing and I've watched them over the years," Coach Hardegree confirmed. "All of these colleges now are using different player packages with personnel groups running in and out. We did the same thing except we used the people we had in there and just changed positions. For instance: Daniel (Brooks) played fullback, tight end and wide receiver. Besides the quarterback, the person who had to know most in our offense was Daniel who was our R-back, some people call it an H-back."

Tennessee calls it an H-back and it's a position Jason Witten played very well. The Vols also used the H-back as a lead blocker and moved him around and sent him in motion. The H-back role allowed Witten to get away from jams at the line and made it easier to get into pass patterns. That's what Witten enjoyed most about being an H-back and that's what Bo enjoys about playing quarterback.

"Of course Bo wants to throw the ball every play, every quarterback does," Hardegree said. "But you have to do what you do best to win the game. I'm like anybody else, our defense gave up six points a game when Bo was a junior and we gave up nine points a game when he was a senior. Really it all starts there. We averaged about 30 points a game and we had a pretty good schedule."

Getting his team in the right set, distributing the ball to his playmakers and avoiding the big mistake were Bo's primary objectives and he was very successful during the Cougars 12-1 campaign.

"It's multiple, we spread the ball around a good bit," said Coach Hardegree. "This year we had the people to do it. We had a lot of weapons and we just tried to utilize that and it pretty well worked, for 12 weeks anyway."

Bo will have to learn Tennessee's terminology, but he already knows many of the basics and that puts him ahead of the game.

Editor's Note: An in-depth feature on Bo Hardegree will be included in the Rocky Top News recruiting issue that's scheduled for release next week.

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