ATHENS – The pass came to Mecole Hardman’s right side as he ran toward the sideline. The dart from Jake Fromm landed easily in Hardman’s hands, and he took a few steps and then was safely out of bounds. First catch. First down. No problem.
Hardman, standing in the tunnel outside Georgia’s locker room after the game, would say it just felt natural. Back on offense, after a year of an aborted experiment on the other side of the ball.
“I’ve been playing offense my whole life,” Hardman said. “It still felt the same out there to me. Whenever the ball comes to me, I’ve just got to make a play.”
The hullabaloo over Fromm and Jacob Eason overshadowed the much-anticipated offensive debut of Hardman. It wasn’t quite an explosive one; the 8-yard catch on Fromm’s first drive was Hardman’s only offensive touch of the game.
Still, it was notable that Hardman was one of only two Georgia wide receivers to catch a pass in the season opener. Senior Javon Wims, who caught 3 passes, was the other. Presumed main target Terry Godwin was among those held without a catch, though he was a victim of an Eason overthrow.
“Mecole’s a track guy. Very fast, one of the fastest people I’ve seen,” Wims said. “I think he definitely brings another element of speed we could use on the outside.”
Hardman, a 5-star prospect coming out of high school in 2016, was a man without a natural position when he arrived. He tried cornerback for a year, and he also was the backup kickoff returner. There were plans to dabble on offense, but they never materialized last year, and he hardly played any defense either.
“I came in wanting to play both ways. But when I was on defense I was like, ‘Hey I’m just here to help the team, whatever I can do to help the team,’” Hardman said. “Maybe it’s not more natural to me, like offense was. But I came in and worked hard each day and hoped my name got called. Now I’m on offense, and I’m just here to make it happen.”
It will be interesting to see which receivers Fromm turns to as his targets, and whether he and Hardman have a rapport since they arrived on offense at the same time. But Fromm also should have a couple of more wide receiver targets at Notre Dame.
Sophomore Riley Ridley is due back from his one-game marijuana-related suspension. Freshman J.J. Holloman, who was held out of the opener after hamstring troubles this preseason, also might be able to make the trip.
“Riley’s physical, he’s tough – and he’s dependable,” Wims said. “Riley’s going to bring a new spark to us.”
Of course, catching passes isn’t the only way Hardman can contribute. He played quarterback at Elbert County High School (Elberton, Ga.), running an option offense. So with his track speed, he could run the Wildcat — he practiced it during Georgia’s preseason — or be used on jet sweeps or similar runs.
None of that was tried against Appalachian State. So afterward, Hardman was asked if maybe offensive coordinator Jim Chaney was saving it for Notre Dame.
“I don’t know what they’re doing,” Hardman said, with a laugh. “It’s on coach Chaney to call the right plays and make the right calls. I think they made all the right calls [Saturday night] and I’ve got no problem with it. …”
“I did what I was supposed to do, I think. I made plays when my name was called. Just blocking. Everything went well. I think I did good. Now I’ve just got to go to the film and see what I need to do better to improve.”