Hardesty Picks The Right Time to Step Up

Stephen SmithContributor ISeptember 29, 2009

KNOXVILLE, TN - OCTOBER 06:  Monterio Hardesty #2 of the Tennessee Volunteers runs for a touchdown against the Georgia Bulldogs during their game at Neyland Stadium on October 6, 2007 in Knoxville, Tennessee.  (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)

Monterio Hardesty entered the 2009-10 season at Tennessee with 1046 career rushing yards and a talented, young freshman pushing him for playing time.

Sounds like something you might remember from "The Program," a pedestrian 1990's-era college football movie about a team vaguely reminiscent of Florida State.

But instead of pulling a Ray Griffen and begrudgingly stepping aside for Darnell Jefferson—in this case Bryce Brown—Hardesty has flourished at the times when the Volunteers have needed him most thus far in 2009. In doing so, he's almost halfway to his career rushing total after just four games.

The latest example of Hardesty's prowess came last Saturday when the senior ran for 140 yards and a touchdown in a surprisingly difficult 34-23 win over Ohio. And with undefeated, but also untested Auburn coming into Neyland Stadium this week, there's little need to wonder whether Hardesty will figure largely in Tennessee coach Lane Kiffin's offensive gameplan.

Tennessee's defense, which came into the Ohio game ranked No. 5 among FCS teams, will plug in several new players this week after injuries sidelined starters including starting middle linebacker Nick Reveiz.

A recipe for disaster in this contest would be to leave the defense out on the field too long. And that's where Hardesty comes in.

In tandem with Brown, Hardesty has demonstrated the ability to pick up the tough yards running into the teeth of enemy defenses like he did two weeks ago in The Swamp against Florida.

He'll have to do that again against the Tigers who will probably sit back on their defensive heels and dare Volunteers quarterback Jonathan Crompton to beat them through the air.

But that's not a big deal to Hardesty. He's wanted the spotlight since he came to Tennessee and now, after three seasons in someone else's shadow, he has it at just the right time.