By Joe Fortenbaugh and Wes Bunting:
At 5-11 and 225 pounds, Tennessee running back Montario Hardesty possesses a punishing blend of size, speed and power.
The former collegiate standout finished fourth in the SEC in rushing yards (1,345) and third in touchdowns (13) for the 7-6 Volunteers in 2009 on his way to being named second-team Associated Press All-SEC.
But despite the senior season accolades, the 4.5 40 time and the monstrous 560 carries he produced in five years with the Vols (second most all time at Tennessee), Hardesty is still facing a world of doubters.
“I run every play like I have something to prove, like I have a chip on my shoulder,” Hardesty told us during a recent podcast for the NFP. “Because there’s a lot of people who still doubt me.”
The doubters of the world are all focused on one thing: Hardesty’s injury history.
The 23-year-old tore his ACL as a freshman in 2005 and has had a total of three surgeries in the past five years. Last season was his only year at Tennessee in which he carried the ball more than 110 times.
“If you look at what I’ve done, my freshman and sophomore years were really my only years having significant injuries. I really haven’t been as beat up as people try to make me out to be.”
You want proof of his durability? Look no further than an eight-day span in late November 2009 when Hardesty ripped off a total of 71 carries for 350 yards and four touchdowns in back-to-back wins against Vanderbilt (31-16) and Kentucky (30-24).
“I was telling [former Tennessee head coach Lane Kiffin] to give me the ball more,” Hardesty said when asked about the astounding two-week workload. “Coach said they were going to keep bringing it, and it’s going to be like a heavyweight bout. I didn’t want to give in. I wasn’t tired at all.”
That’s what happens when you’re constantly forced to battle adversity. To pick yourself up off the canvas after major knee surgery and work your way back into the starting lineup. You become a competitor who isn’t afraid to work overtime.
“For me, being at Tennessee with Arian Foster, we always competed so hard against each other that it made you have to get better at certain things. I would go extra and do extra…catching the ball and working on my pass protection.”
With just over one week to go until the start of the 2010 NFL Draft, Hardesty knows he’s one of several quality running backs among this year’s prospects. He also knows it will be a battle to prove the naysayers wrong and show that he’s got the durability to make it in the NFL.
“I like to go out there and compete every play and let my teammates know that I’m putting it all out on the field for them,” he said.
I’m sure there are several NFL veterans who couldn’t ask for anything more from an incoming rookie.