Head coach Lane Kiffin paid Hardesty perhaps the surpreme compliment recently, noting that the senior tailback is everything the UT coaching staff is looking for.
"His personality - the way he plays - he is what we are trying to build this program like," Kiffin said. "The way he is is what we're trying to get 85 players to be like. That's when we'll be a championship team, as we get closer and closer to that, because he cares. He cares so much."
Hardesty showed he cared by enduring four injury-plagued years as Arian Foster's backup. He showed he cared by never complaining about his playing time. He showed he cared by routinely playing through injuries. And he showed he cared by always putting team goals ahead of his own goals. Kiffin realized that as Hardesty peeled off his uniform following Tennessee's 23-13 loss at Florida.
"The kid's in tears after the Florida game, and he's still the SEC's leading rusher," Kiffin recalled. "He had a great game, had a great run on a screen pass to score and scored our other touchdown on a run. But he didn't care one bit about that. He wanted to win, and it hurt him a lot."
His knees hurt him a lot, too. Hardesty played through the discomfort, however, finishing the season with 1,345 rushing yards, 12 rushing touchdowns, 302 receiving yards and a receiving TD.
"He's gotten banged up in games, and he's usually out for a couple of plays, then he comes right back in," Kiffin noted recently. "He's really been a warrior.... 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's work ethic helped a patchwork offensive line look fairly good for most of the season. He brought out the best in the blockers because they respect him so much for how hard he competes and how hard he runs.
"We all say on the sidelines that we'd go to war with him any day," senior guard Cory Sullins said recently. "When he makes a move or runs over somebody, it just gets us all real fired up. It makes us want to do everything we can so he can excel. He's been a lot of fun to block for."
As much as his teammates respect Hardesty, however, his coach seems to respect him even more.
"If you could see after the games we've lost how important it is for him," Kiffin said earlier. "It's so valuable for our young guys to see that. We point out all the time to our young guys how important the game is to Eric Berry, Rico McCoy, Hardesty, Dan Williams.
"We try to get those young guys to understand that those guys are great players - All-SEC players - because of the way they practice, the way they go about it every day in preparation."
Except for the times when he was too injured to practice, Montario Hardesty went about it full-bore every day for five years. That's why Lane Kiffin would love for his 2010 team to feature 85 players with the same mindset.