Nearly four years ago Templeton Hardy was one of the most highly-touted prospects in the Southeast and was a four-star defensive tackle prospect at North Panola (Miss.) High School. Expectations were high for the former Dandy Dozen performer and his future was bright.
But the past three years saw Hardy contribute little to the Mississippi State football program. However this spring the 6-foot-3 and 295-pound redshirt junior decided enough was enough.
First things first, though. Hardy struggled with injuries the past two years, including a dislocated elbow last season. Now healthy and with junior guard Tobias Smith on the mend this spring, Hardy started the spring as State's No. 1 right guard and finished the spring with that same title.
"I knew I just had to get better and for one thing, I had to get healthy," said Hardy. "I got tired of sitting on the sidelines and knew I had to get better so I could play. It felt great to be healthy and out there playing and helping the team."
And for the first time in his college career, Hardy was having "fun".
"It was fun and it was great," said Hardy, a Como, Miss., native. "I just came in, worked hard and got better every day. I still have a long ways to go and a lot to work on. But every day this summer will be a constant grind to get better."
Also aiding his development this spring was keeping things simple. As noted, Hardy began his college career on the defensive line. Then he worked at right tackle and also both guard positions. But this spring Hardy was focused on just one spot - right guard.
"It helped me out a lot and kept me from thinking too much," said Hardy. "Half of the time I was thinking too much and messing up. But being in one spot now, I just constantly think about my responsibilities at that one spot and I just have to focus on my duties there.
"Being at right guard came easier to me this spring. It was easier to use my fundamentals and my techniques. My footwork and steps in protections got a whole lot better."
Hardy also credited competition from the opposing linemen in practice for his improvements. Of course, going against one of the best defensive tackles in the SEC will do that.
"That would be Fletcher Cox," said Hardy. "He just has a knack for getting off the ball so quick and he is so strong. He gives you a pretty good test every time we're out there practicing. But he also helps to make you better because you probably won't face anyone this season as good as he is."
Of course, competition for Hardy on his own line will get even steeper when two-a-days arrive. Smith is expected to return to 100 percent late this summer and will no doubt be looking to re-gain his starting spot. But with Hardy's emergence this spring, regardless who starts this fall at right guard will bode well for State's depth at the guard slots.
"I think we are pretty deep," said Hardy. "If one guy goes down then the next guy will step right in. I feel confident in our depth and that we have guys that will come in and play hard. You need more than just five guys in the SEC and we're all working at one group."