Random nuggets from the Vols' media day Tuesday
The 2008 football season began with Arian Foster closing in on Tennessee's career-rushing record. But the team struggled, and so did Foster.
He finished his career with 2,964 yards - 114 yards short of Travis Henry's school record.
Now, I'm starting to think about another rushing record. It came to mind while watching UT senior tailback Montario Hardesty run around and through South Carolina last Saturday night.
Before the season, you couldn't have imagined a more unlikely candidate to challenge UT's single-season rushing record of 1,464 yards, set by Travis Stephens in 2001. Hardesty had never rushed for more than 384 yards in a single season.
His career had been marked more by injuries than yards.
Yet here he is - a fifth-year senior, eight games into his final season - with 841 yards.
That's a long way from Stephens' record. But the distance doesn't seem so daunting when you realize how far Hardesty has come.
Since overcoming a severe knee injury and lesser injuries as well in his first four years at UT, Hardesty has established himself as one of the SEC's most durable players this season.
"His biggest thing is how hard he works out and practices every day," UT fullback Austin Johnson said. "After practice, he'll ice and stretch. He really takes care of his body."
All the icing and stretching doesn't cure everything. UT coach Lane Kiffin pointed out Tuesday that "his knee is not real healthy," adding "we keep him off the turf when we go inside (for practice)."
Hardesty's workload between the tackles comes with a price. But on those rare occasions when he goes out, he doesn't stay out.
Said Kiffin: "Everytime he goes out, by the time the trainers get to me to say he's out, he's already back in."
The bumps and bruises aren't evident when Hardesty is carrying the ball. Based on how he ran against the Gamecocks, he's getting stronger as the season goes along. Did you see that spin move he put on South Carolina's Chris Culliver? Tired running backs don't make that kind of move.
"When we saw that (on video), it wasn't surprising," Johnson said. "That's his No. 1 move. It was awesome, but I wasn't surprised. That's what he does."
All of Hardesty's defender-shaking moves don't obscure the obvious. He's still a long shot to break the record.
But it's not out of the question, particularly when you consider the schedule - before and after.
Hardesty already has run against three of the top five rushing defenses in the SEC. Alabama ranks second nationally in rushing defense. Florida is 11th.
There's nothing comparable to that in the next four games.
Memphis, Saturday's opponent, ranks 105th nationally in rushing defense. Later comes Vanderbilt (102nd) and Kentucky (104th).
Ole Miss, which ranks 60th, is the toughest defense Hardesty will face the rest of the way.
Even against a lighter schedule, you couldn't expect Hardesty to average 155 yards per game over the last month of the season. But the Vols are two victories away from becoming bowl-eligible, and bowl stats now count. Hardesty would have to average 125 yards through five games to break the record.
"That definitely could happen," UT senior offensive guard Cory Sullins said. "I'm glad to know that. It gives us another goal to shoot for."
If Hardesty just maintains his current average and UT plays in a bowl, he would finish with 1,366 yards, second only to Stephens.
Jamal Lewis and Travis Henry never gained that many yards in a single season. Neither did Chuck Webb nor Johnnie Jones.
They're among the 13 UT players who have rushed for more than 1,000 yards in a season. Hardesty needs just 159 more yards to join them.
Based on how hard he has played and how much he has overcome, he would be a welcome addition to UT's 1,000-yard club.
Sports editor John Adams may be reached at 865-342-6284 or firstname.lastname@example.org.