July 21, 2009

Hardy has new perspective after close call

OXFORD, Miss. - Greg Hardy patiently went through a Sports Illustrated photo shoot on Tuesday, obeying the requests of a photographer looking for that one signature shot.

Hardy, dressed in full football uniform sans helmet, fired out of a three-point stance, cut to his left and feigned sacking a quarterback.

Once, the photographer reminded Ole Miss' senior defensive end to keep his eyes open.

Given the experiences Hardy has gone through in the past few weeks, a time period that included a potentially serious car accident and yet another injury scare involving Hardy's problematic right foot, that wasn't a difficult order to obey. Hardy's eyes have never seen things more clearly.

"Overall, it's given me a new appreciation of everything and of life itself," Hardy said. "Everything is precious."

Hardy and teammate Dexter McCluster avoided major injuries after a car accident July 11 near Pontotoc, Miss. Hardy reaggravated the foot injury that cost him much of last season and resulted in offseason surgery, but Ole Miss officials said Monday he will be ready to practice when the Rebels report next month and presumably ready to play when one of the most anticipated seasons in school history begins on Sept. 6 at Memphis.

"I love it, man," Hardy said. "I've got teammates I've been with for four years and I'm at a place I've been happy in for four years and I'm playing the game that I love, so I don't think it gets any better."

Hardy said Tuesday he was concerned in the days following the accident when his twice-injured foot was sore and Ole Miss medical personnel put him back in a walking boot.

It could have been much worse. Mississippi Highway Patrolman Chad Moore told the (Jackson, Miss.) Clarion-Ledger that it was a small miracle that McCluster and Hardy escaped the incident relatively unscathed.

"It was a pretty hard impact," Moore told the Clarion-Ledger. "Those two guys were really lucky. I've worked a lot of accidents at that intersection and there's usually injuries. It's just a bad intersection. The other guy said he just didn't see (Hardy's) car."

Moore told the Jackson newspapaper Hardy was driving and McCluster was a passenger in a 2005 Escalade travelling westbound on Highway 278 just west of Pontotoc when a car pulled in front of them off of Rocky Ford Road and hit them in the left front tire area. Hardy was going about 65 miles per hour, according to Moore, and had his cruise control set. Hardy's vehicle eventually burst into flames and burned to the ground.

Hardy, projected by many as a likely first-round draft choice in next April's NFL draft, admitted Tuesday that he was concerned that he had suffered a setback that could have threatened his senior season.

"When you're getting combed over with a fine-tooth comb, you've always got some worries in your mind," Hardy said. "It's happened twice before, but I came out of it pretty well.

"Adrenaline was flowing after the accident. I was just so worried about everybody getting out safe and everything being all right. I really didn't feel it until later. It was that day, but it was a long time after. When I came down from my adrenaline, a lot of things were bruised up because of the accident, but really nothing was going through my mind. I was just shocked. ...I was just driving and something unexpected happened. I feel blessed to come out of it."

Carolina Panthers team physician Dr. Bob Anderson evaluated a CT scan of Hardy's foot on Monday and gave the All-Southeastern Conference defensive end the green light to play. Hardy will wear a walking boot for the next two weeks, Ole Miss head athletic trainer Tim Mullins said Monday, but that appears to be a precautionary measure only.

Mullins said Hardy will continue rehabilitation of his right foot, which will include running on an underwater treadmill.

"I wouldn't say I'm in great shape, but I'm in good enough shape to come back," Hardy said. "I'd been running with the team a little bit before the accident. I ran my 100s good and my 110s good, so I feel good about myself."

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