• 72°

Hardy works hard to start for USm

HATTIESBURG — Fullback Wayne Hardy and the Southern Miss GoldenEagles sweated through another day of preseason practice. Veteranhead coach Jeff Bower cracked the verbal whip and his assistantcoaches echoed their sentiments towards the players, pushing themharder.

Preseason practice is no picnic at the park but Hardy is makingthe most of it. The Monticello product is expected to make a majorcontribution to USM’s success in 2004.

Looming on the horizon is a Sept. 11, nationally-televisedseason opener at Nebraska. Just five days later, Hardy and histeammates will welcome a strong California team to The Rock for anESPN Thursday night special.

Besides the physical workouts at USM, Hardy (6-0, 227) has beenattending summer classes. He is growing stronger mentally andphysically.

“Everybody has been working out real hard,” said Hardy.”We wantto win Conference USA again.”

Southern Miss has dominated C-USA over the years and has themost successful program among the schools. A Liberty Bowl loss toUtah State last December has served as a motivational force duringsummer workouts.

A redshirt sophomore, Hardy’s college career got off to a slowstart due to nagging leg injuries. He’s healthy now and it wasclearly evident in the final weeks of the 2003 season.

Hardy saw his first collegiate start against East Carolina whenBobby Weakley was sidelined by a hamstring injury. He had 6 carriesfor 16 yards.

Blessed with physical strength, Hardy has good speed and softhands, making him a handy passing target for quarterback DustinAlmond. In high school at Lawrence County, Hardy had starred atlinebacker until his senior year when former LCHS coach TrentHammond moved him to wingback in the Cougars’ double wingformation.

Shazam!

An offensive star was born. Hardy rushed for over 1,000 yardsand was selected The DAILY LEADER’s Offensive Player of the Year onthe 2001 All-Area Team.

Hardy had several college scholarship offers but his preferencewas Southern Miss.

According to Hardy, those energy-draining summer workouts haveproved beneficial. “Those workouts keep us mentally focused,” saidHardy. “They push our bodies to the maximum. What you put into theworkouts is what you get out of it. Coaches find a way to get thebest out of you.”

Hardy admits it took him a while to learn the complicatedoffense. “I finally got in the swing of things with the newoffense. I have to work more on my technique.”

Bower and his staff have watched Hardy show continuedimprovement through last season and through spring drills. He isrecognized as an excellent blocker.

Hardy benches 305 pounds and runs a 4.8 in the 40-yard dash.Thomas Jackson and Cole Mason are also working at fullback.

Asked about USM’s chances this season, Hardy said the offensemust carry more of the load while the defense matures. “We want tohelp the team. This is our second year in this offense and we havea good offensive line. Our running game should be improved. We havegood tailbacks.”

Jay Johnson is the new running backs coach at USM. He directedthe tight ends last year. He coached running backs and quarterbacksat Kansas from 1998-2001.

Johnson’s talked about Hardy’s steady improvement. “Wayne reallycame on at the end of the year. He did some real positive things.His body size and speed make him a valuable asset.

“He’s also a good receiver out of the backfield,” added Johnson.”Weakley and Wayne are running neck and neck at fullback.”

Shelton Gandy, Co-Lin’s new assistant coach, was Hardy’sposition coach at USM in 2003. He believes Hardy will continue toimprove.

“Wayne had an injury problem when he first came to USM but hegot better and better last season. All he needs is more reps tobecome an outstanding fullback.”

There’s a long season ahead and Hardy plans to get plenty ofplaying time with the Eagles.

Write to sports editor Tom Goetz, c/o of The DAILY LEADER,P.O. BOX 551, Brookhaven, MS 39602 or e-mailsports@dailyleader.com