Filling Footsteps

Though there have been plenty of guys like him before, John Hardison is looking forward to living his dream of being a Mountaineer this fall.

The 5'10" linebacker from George Washington High School in Charleston will join the ranks of state natives like Ben Collins, and Scott Gyorko before him who have entered the Mountaineer program as walk-on linebackers.

"I remember reading articles about Ben Collins and how tough he was. Of course Gyorko had a great career, and certainly Jeff Noechel is still making a name for himself up there," said Hardison following Saturday night's North-South all-star classic in which he recorded seven tackles and recovered a fumble.

Hardison always knew he would be a Mountaineer. He was raised with Blue and Gold blood in his veins, courtesy of his father Rich who himself was quite the defensive end for the Mountaineers back in the late 1960's.

"My dad was a captain there in '67 under Jim Carlen," said Haridson. "I hear all those old stories about my dad and I kind of look at him now and wonder if he really was that big tough guy. I hear him talk about how great he was, and his war stories. I'm going to try to equal that with my own little stories to kind of match him."

Being a walk-on for the Mountaineers is different than it is anywhere else. West Virginia always finds quality players through its walk-on program, and that pattern doesn't look to be changing anytime soon. With the success of others before him, Hardison has seen the blueprint for success.

"You've got to go in with the attitude that you're going to have to work hard, definitely. It'll be a long road to hoe. You want to follow in the mold of a guy like John Pennington, because he was able to stick it out, and it's not easy doing that. I'm going to give it my time and see if they're interested in me," said a determined Hardison.

NCAA rules restrict the number of players who can participate in preseason camp, so it's likely Hardison won't join the team until school starts. Until then, he is ready to work to become a Mountaineer.

"I'm going to be running my butt off. I hear they're working out pretty hard up there," said Hardison of the off-season conditioning program of strength coach Mike Barwis. "I'm doing conditioning camp down in Teays Valley at Potential Plus, and I've got (WVU's) workout book and I'm following that. I'll kind of be running my own little Mountaineer workout camp in Charleston."

When he does finally report, Hardison doesn't expect to step on the field right away.

"This fall I'm pretty positive I'll be redshirted, I'll just be practice fodder if you will," quipped Hardison.

Still, it's a once in a lifetime opportunity he's looking to make the most of.

"I definitely want to play at the highest level. I had offers from some smaller schools I could have gone too, but I wanted to play Division I and see how I could measure up. I think I can," sums up Hardison.

Following in his father's footsteps, and those of Gyorko, Collins, and Noechel, will be no small task for Hardison. He knows what he has to do, and is willing to put in the hard work to accomplish his goal.

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