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April 11, 2012

Hardy motivated by reminders


On the inside of his left arm, he has scripture to keep him spiritually grounded. On the inside of his right arm, he has the reminder of what it means to be a student-athlete at the University of Notre Dame.

Sitting below Touchdown Jesus is an interlocking ND with the Golden Dome below that and shamrocks all around.

For Eilar Hardy, the tattoo is a constant reminder.

“It was a commitment for me to stay focused,” said Hardy, the 5-foot-11, 185-pound sophomore from Reynoldsburg, Ohio. “I look at it every day.

The life of this young football player was derailed on the second day of full pads last August. He was taking part in a simple pop-up drill in which one defensive back runs with the football and the other pops up from the ground, squares his shoulders, and makes a hit.

Hardy is in the mix this spring.

Hardy, a Rivals top 250 player out of Pickerington Central High School, was the offensive player in the drill and fellow defensive back Gary Gray was the defender.

“(Gray) just gave me a simple shot,” Hardy recalled. “It wasn’t nothing hard and my foot got caught in the turf. My knee hyper-extended. I really didn’t think it was that serious. I thought it was just a minor knee injury. It really didn’t hurt.

“But I got the MRI that same day and they told me my LCL (lateral collateral ligament) was torn and my hamstring came off the bone.”

Hardy, who was still learning the ropes at safety behind Harrison Smith, Jamoris Slaughter and Zeke Motta, was running with the No. 1 kick coverage and kick return units at the time of the injury. He was in the mix to make an impact.

“(The coaches) had really big expectations for me and I was anxious to get out there and be a part of the team,” Hardy said.

That all changed on that August day, and the next four months were spent rehabbing.

“It was tough,” Hardy said. “It was a process that I had never been through, so it was hard for me mentally to stay focused and to keep my composure. Just being on the sideline and watching teams and not having the power to do anything to help the team win was frustrating.”

Hardy’s rehab was ahead of schedule to the point where he was able to practice with the team in Orlando for the Champs Sports Bowl, which means he’s had several months of full-tilt workouts to prepare for his first spring drills at Notre Dame.

But without the repetitions throughout the 2011 season, Hardy is playing catch-up like a typical freshman, only these reps are the equivalent of the ones he would have gotten had he been healthy in the fall.

“There’s a lot of catch-up because I didn’t have the reps and the exposure last year,” Hardy said. “The ability to actually know the game speed is just coming to me now.

“So basically, I’m a step behind. I’m watching a lot of film to get my knowledge and instincts back to where they were. It was a challenge to come back and learn the defense all over again because I was at rehab, not in the meeting rooms. I would do my schoolwork and then come in early to get my film work, just to refresh my mind. But it wasn’t the same as being out there.”

Hardy is in the mix this spring. He’s working with the second unit behind Zeke Motta and now, fortified with an extra 10 pounds, he’s picking up the pace.

“He gets better every practice,” said safeties coach Bob Elliott before the one-week Easter break. “He was hurt last fall, and he’s had some muscle injury problems this spring. So he’s really been held back by those injuries. He’s probably 80 percent right now, but he’s forcing himself through so he can learn.

“I know it’s frustrating for him because he can’t go 100 percent, so we really haven’t gotten a great evaluation of him yet. But hopefully, when he comes back from Easter break with four or five days to heal, we can get a good evaluation by the end of spring.”

A cornerback during his sophomore and junior seasons in high school, there was some talk about the possibility of Hardy playing cornerback this spring. But all of that talk was on the outside. Hardy has been running at free (field) safety every step of the way.

“I’m busting my butt in the weight room,” said Hardy, who no longer resembles the wispy-thin player that picked off seven passes during his junior and senior years combined at Pickerington. “That’s going to help me get back into shape and get my legs back.

“With me watching film and studying the playbook, everything will click. Once I do the little things, the big picture will come and everything else will follow behind it.

“In high school, we had three or four calls and then it was just being an athlete. Now it’s more alignment, it’s more seeing what the offense is doing and the formation. So there’s a lot that has to click real fast and I’m still going through the process.”

And when he needs a remember of the opportunity he has at Notre Dame, he simply looks at his right arm.

“My mom always tells me to get my degree,” Hardy said. “Don’t let anything come between that, so I look at this on my arm and I’m like, ‘I’ve got to finish. I’ve got to get through it no matter how hard it gets. I’ve got to stay focused and get through it.’”

Hardy’s Notre Dame career has just begun.


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