ARLINGTON, Texas – Greg Hardy has proven himself to be one of college football’s top pass rushers when healthy.
Both Hardy and his coach say that’s exactly what he is – for one last college football game.
“Greg has been outstanding since he came back for bowl preparation. This is the best he’s been physically. He’s running good, he looks good,” said Ole Miss coach Houston Nutt, as the Rebels and Oklahoma State continued preparations for Saturday’s Cotton Bowl.
In early November, Nutt announced that Hardy would have surgery on a wrist that was injured early in the season. Nutt believed the injury would be season-ending for Hardy, a senior from Memphis. It did in fact cause him to miss the final three regular season games.
With a cast on his wrist, Hardy returned to the team for bowl practice earlier this month. The time away helped the wrist heal but also gave him more bounce in a foot that has required two surgeries and much more treatment since the beginning of his junior season.
In limited playing time in a reserve role over the last two years, Hardy has amassed 16 tackles for loss and 131/2 sacks. Five of the sacks have come this season in eight games played.
“I’m excited about Greg. I think he’s going to finish this the right way,” Nutt said.
In a career known for big plays, Hardy was at his best as a sophomore against Alabama, when he totaled 13 tackles, five tackles for loss, three sacks, two forced fumbles and two pressures.
Used as a receiver at a time under former coach Ed Orgeron, he also has three catches, all three for touchdowns.
However, Hardy has been known for his eccentricity as much as his big plays. His career also included a suspension by Orgeron, a time near the end of 2007 that left Hardy’s future at Ole Miss uncertain.
When Nutt and his staff arrived for the 2008 season they talked of the need to get Hardy to play at full speed on every play.
“The point we had to get across with Gregg was everything’s not a pass. He’d had so much success rushing the passer. In order to be a complete football player you have to defend the run and the pass,” said defensive coordinator Tyrone Nix, who also spoke of adjusting, on occasion, his rough exterior style of coaching to get through to Hardy.
“I’ll adjust. If you can make enough plays, I’ll adjust. He’s adjusted some. He’s tried. He’s still here. At one point I didn’t think he’d play again at Ole Miss, but he’s back, and we’re happy about him being back. Hopefully he can finish his career on a high note,” Nix said. “Greg can do whatever he wants. He has tremendous ability, tremendous talent.
“When he’s on, he’s as good as they get.”
That effort to increase Hardy’s tempo on a play-by-play basis reached a satisfactory conclusion. Then a rash of injuries set in ranging from a stress fracture in his foot, to a life scare in a car wreck with teammate Dexter McCluster, to a badly sprained ankle after a chop block and then the wrist.
Then came the wrist surgery.
“The wrist surgery allowed me time to get my ankle and my legs back under me too. I’ve been able to come back with no pain, and I just feel like my regular self now,” Hardy said. “In the time off I was running and staying in good condition. I feel like a new person.”
Hardy said he never considered the wrist surgery to be a season-ending thing. He hoped to come back earlier.
“I was trying to get back for Mississippi State personally. It happened early in the season, and I felt like if I had played with the pain that far I could finish it out. I’m just glad to be here,” he said.
Glad to contribute to what he hopes is a Cotton Bowl victory, Hardy says. But the national stage offers something else, one last big-game opportunity to show his talent to NFL scouts. How much of a motivation might that be?
“Oh, just a tad, a tad,” Nutt says. “That’s the greatest motivator there is, much better than any coach … just trying to get to the next level.”
Hardy insists the NFL isn’t at the forefront of his thoughts.
“For me, it makes sense, but I just wanted to come back for the Cotton Bowl, repeat from last year, play with my team one last time. I feel like I have a lot to prove to the NCAA and my team, just show what I’ve got in me.”
Contact Parrish Alford at parrish.alford @djournal.com
Parrish Alford/ NEMS Daily Journal