In a poll of 98 FBS coaches, Mark Richt — along with Oklahoma’s Bob Stoops — was voted as the coach that the other coaches would want their son to play for.
The same can be said about Danyell Hardman.
Hardman is the mother of one of the most sought-after high school players in the country, Mecole Hardman Jr. The 4-star athlete’s mother isn’t necessarily a UGA fan, but she is a huge supporter of the Bulldogs coach.
“People always ask me if I am a Georgia fan,” Danyell Hardman told the AJC. “I say I’m a Mark Richt fan. I’m a Mark Richt fan because of his values. I think if my son did go to Georgia, not only would he become a good football player, but I think Mark Richt would make him into more than just another football player. With him, I think it’s more than just football. He will make him into a man.”
Danyell recently switched careers. She was a para-professional educator and worked with special-needs students at a nearby middle school. Mrs. Hardman went back to school for medical classes and now is employed with Athens Family Footcare.
In her spare time, she volunteers at a local church (she’s a non-denominational Christian) and does ministry work. The mother of the No. 2 athlete in the country says it’s imperative that Mecole’s future coach has morals and values that mirror hers.
“It’s very important to me,” she said. “When I go on these trips, I can tell if you are being genuine with me and if you’re not. Of course, everyone wants your child to play for them. All of the coaches are going to tell you what you want to hear because everyone wants (Mecole Jr.) to play for them. As a mother, I want to make sure at the end of the day, that when I leave my child with you for four years, that he’s going to do what he has to do on the football field but also off of it. He’s going to have morals; he’s going to have values; he’s going to be respectful.”
Mecole is set to release his top 10 list next week. Even though his mother plays a huge role in his recruitment and knows what type of coach she wants her son to have, the Elbert County High School athlete says it’s ultimately his decision when it comes to where he will play college football.
“What mama wants, goes. It’s always what mama wants,” Mecole said. “It’s good to go to a school that your mom feels comfortable with you at, but just because she likes the head coach doesn’t mean that I am going to just go to that school.”
When the 5-foot-10, 175-pounder does decide on his future school, his mom is hoping that his new coach makes sure that her son stays in line.
“I don’t want to turn on that TV and see my child acting a fool on the sidelines,” she said. “Not only does he represent his university, he represents me. I want to make sure that whichever school he goes to, he’s going to have a coach that says that’s not how we act here.
She continued: “I watch a lot of football. I pay attention to the sidelines and watch how the players and coaches interact. I see some stuff that come out of their mouths when talking to a coach and it’ll be OK. Then you see some coaches and some players that don’t act like that. That’s what I want.”
Throughout her son’s recruitment, there’s only one coach that comes to mind that is on the same moral high ground as coach Richt and that is Clemson coach Dabo Swinney.
Mrs. Hardman became a big fan of the Clemson coach after a visit the family took on Father’s Day this past June.
“There was a kid that was out there and he was not giving anyone respect,” Danyell said.”Dabo told him that if he wasn’t going to listen to what he was saying, then he needed to leave. The kid got up and left. As a mother, I wanted to just get up and applaud Dabo because you got to teach these kids respect.”
Mecole is very tight-lipped when it comes to who his leaders are, but most recruiting analysts believe UGA and Tennessee are his top schools.
His mom has met Tennessee coach Butch Jones, but she has not connected with him on the same personal level as she has with Mark Richt.
“I have met Butch. I like Butch. Butch is cool. He’s a good man. He’s got a football team that he needs to get together. I don’t know what his morals are like, though, because I haven’t really talked to him much.”
Said dad, Mecole Hardman, Sr.: “I think Butch is more of a player’s coach. I think a lot of the players can relate to him. He’s a great guy. I loved meeting him.”
The Hardmans live in Bowman, Ga., a North Georgia town that has a population of 862 people in the 2010 census. Bowman has zero stop lights, no grocery store and just one mom-and-pop store. The lack of street lights at night makes it hard to see even with your high beams on.
Mecole’s mother says it’s a town that everyone knows each other and is respectful of one another. The respect that the residents show one another is what his mom is looking for when her son moves out of the house and starts his next chapter of his life — at a college that will have a much bigger population.
“I was raised on the belief that it takes a village to raise a kid,” Danyell said. “If my son is acting up, I want to know that somebody is going to get him in line. That is the kind of coach I am looking for. I want this coach to be able to call me and say ‘Mrs. Hardman, Mecole did this and we got in under control, but I want to let you know that this is what’s going on.’ If that happens, then I think my son is going to succeed.”
With the guidance of his mom and dad, Mecole Hardman Jr. is ready to turn the lights on his city and put Bowman on the map.