ELBERTON — So far nobody from Georgia has said anything to Mecole Hardman about it. But if the Bulldogs do ever bring up the possibility of playing tailback this year, he said he’d gladly step up and do it.
Hardman is, after all, considered the nation’s No. 1 “athlete.” The 5-star prospect from Elbert County High School is a member of Georgia’s 2016 class and will report to campus with the rest of the signees on June 1.
“I think they’re just really keeping everything to themselves ’til I get there,” said Hardman, sitting at the desk of Elbert coach Sid Fritts late Tuesday morning. “They’re not telling me ‘we need you to do this or do that.’ But I wouldn’t mind doing anything for the team. I love to have the ball in my hands. I feel like it’d be a great opportunity. I know that’s something I’m good at, running with the ball.”
The plan is for Hardman to play defensive back at Georgia, specifically cornerback. But injuries and attrition have ravaged the tailback position at Georgia. Nick Chubb is currently out while rehabbing from major knee surgery, Brendan Douglas is recovering from wrist surgery and A.J. Turman transferred earlier this semester.
That left only junior Sony Michel and redshirt freshman Tae Crowder to run the football this spring. Elijah Holyfield will join the team along with the rest of the 2016 class in June.
Head coach Kirby Smart admitted last week that Hardman had crossed their minds as a potential solution at tailback.
“When he’s here, he talks about (playing) DB and he’s fired up,” Smart said. “But I think he’s such a special guy with the ball in his hand that it’s going to be tough (not to play him on offense).”
Hardman built his athletic reputation with the football in his hands. He played quarterback and ran the zone-read option on a legendary level for the Blue Devils in high school, rushing for 2,103 rushing yards and scoring 28 touchdowns as a senior. He almost single-handedly carried Elbert County through the state playoffs before finally succumbing to Calhoun with a triple-overtime loss in the third round.
Meanwhile, it was at wide receiver that Hardman made his mark at the U.S. Army All-America Game in January. Hardman was described by Scout.com as “the most electrifying prospect” in that contest as he rolled up 143 total yards on kick returns (102 yards), receptions (3 for 36) and one rush (5).
In fact, except for some special situations as a deep safety at Elbert County, almost all of his work at defensive back has come in all-star and prospect camps. The plan was for him to play on that side of the ball in San Antonio, until coaches decided two days before the game he’d help them more on offense.
“I always seem to end up back on offense,” Hardman said. “I think I’m definitely going to be on the defensive side of the ball (at Georgia) with Coach (Mel) Tucker But I’d love to take some reps at running back. That’s what I’m here for — I’m an athlete.
“If it’s running back wildcat, cornerback, a little receiver, DB, special teams, I can do it all. I’ll just have to be the versatile athlete I know I can be.”
Elbert County coach Sid Fritts thinks the Bulldogs will have a hard time resisting the temptation to play Hardman on offense.
“The report I get is they want to look at him as a corner first, and I understand that,” Fritts said. “He definitely has the skillset to advance his career on that side of the ball. For me, it’d be hard for me to take the ball away from him, because he’s special with that football in his hands.”
It’s no coincidence that Hardman wore the No. 4 at Elbert County and will with the Bulldogs. It’s the same number that Champ Bailey while playing both sides of the ball for Georgia in the 1990s before embarking on an 18-year NFL career as a cornerback
Even if Hardman does end up playing cornerback at Georgia, the plan is to that there will be an offensive package for Hardman.
“(Offensive coordinator Jim) Chaney finds ways of getting good guys the football,” Smart said with a smile.