OXFORD — Greg Hardy should look both ways before he crosses the street, walk around instead of under ladders, and avoid black cats.
“My luck ain’t going too good right now,” the Ole Miss defensive end said.
Hardy and his fragile foot have three weeks until the start of the most anticipated football season at Ole Miss in years. After two surgeries, a pile of negative newspaper clippings and one car accident, he’s taking it slow and steady as camp opens.
By necessity, not choice. He admits to being impatient to let loose, but he is listening to his coach and his trainer when they tell him to take it easy.
Coach Houston Nutt thinks he’ll have Hardy at full speed by the Sept. 6 opener at Memphis.
“We want to get him ready by the first game,” Nutt said. “The doctors have cleared him and we feel really good about that. He can’t go through an entire practice right now with the intensity that we are asking for, but you never have to worry about his effort when he is on the field. If anything, we have to slow him down a little bit.”
That didn’t seem possible in Hardy’s first two seasons.
He was all-Southeastern Conference after his sophomore year with 10 sacks and 18 tackles for a loss, and appeared headed for All-America status and the top of the NFL draft. He’d also played a season with the basketball team and scored three touchdowns as a wide receiver.
Then again, he was also suspended two games by coach Ed Orgeron because of his attitude.
It looked like the 6-foot-4, 265-pounder from Millington, Tenn., was ready to turn up the heat against opposing quarterbacks going into his junior season. Then he broke a small bone in his foot and had surgery to repair it with screws.
Hardy rushed back and immediately played well. He had 1½ sacks and 2½ tackles for a loss as he harassed Tim Tebow and the Gators in a 31-30 upset that shook up the national rankings.
A week later against South Carolina, though, he had just one tackle and wasn’t a factor.
And so it would go all season. Coaches questioned his effort and attitude — many columns were written about it, too — but it was clear the foot was limiting Hardy more than his mind.
“I’d say the hardest part of last year was just not playing period, not being in the games as much as I wanted to, as much as the year before,” Hardy said.
Hardy had a second surgery in January to repair the bone again and missed spring drills. He was on track for full participation in preseason practice when he and teammate Dexter McCluster were involved in a wreck in July.
Hardy aggravated the foot and was put back in a walking cast.
“I was really nervous when I got the phone call from Greg Hardy and Dexter McCluster getting hit in broad daylight … and to think how lucky they are to be alive,” Nutt said. “To think not having those two guys for the season, that’s a nightmare because that changes your team.”
Hardy can only hope his bad luck streak is over.
The rest of the Rebels sure do.
Ole Miss is confident it can put a strong defense on the field without Hardy, but the Rebels could be so much better with him healthy.
“Any time you have Greg Hardy playing defensive end, you have to love that as a cornerback,” Marshay Green said. “Why? Because we’re going to get more pass rushes and the quarterback is going to throw the ball into spots that he doesn’t want to.
“I can’t wait to get him back on the field.”
Hardy can’t wait, either. He’s trying to be patient and show everyone he’s learned from the past year. Standing on the sidelines taught him it’s not all about sacks and draft stock.
“The future’s the future, whatever happens, happens,” Hardy said. “We’ve seen that plenty of times in my case. It goes back to having the guys behind me, having my teammates support me and just having everybody out there as one. Right now I’m just happy. Happy to be here.”
Chris Talbott/The Associated Press