UGA Football

High school coach sees Hardman’s best potential on offense

Georgia receiver/cornerback Mecole Hardman catches a pass during a recent practice.
Georgia receiver/cornerback Mecole Hardman catches a pass during a recent practice. Georgia Sports Communications

Mecole Hardman played a variety of positions during his time in high school at Elbert County, earning the coveted status of being a five-star athlete and recruited by programs nationwide.

A majority of his work at the prep level came at quarterback and wide receiver, but he was placed at the cornerback position when he arrived in Athens. During his freshman season, Hardman was with the second team during practices and only saw game action sporadically on special teams and then defensively against Louisiana-Lafayette.

After not being able to make much of an impact defensively, would he best live up to his recruiting moniker by becoming a full-time offensive player?

“I think so,” said Sid Fritts, who was Elbert County’s head coach throughout Hardman’s four-year tenure. “I just think he’s a guy that understands — I know it’s a lot faster in the SEC — but he can make plays, even at that level.”

Fritts said he saw Hardman practicing exclusively on offense last week while on campus, and a person with knowledge of the situation said that it continued Saturday when reporters were not allowed to watch practice. Hardman was once again seen in a red offensive practice jersey Tuesday.

Georgia is in search of a slot receiver after the departure of Isaiah McKenzie. Hardman fits the mold at 5-foot-11 and183 pounds and could be a viable option at the position.

Fritts gave the comparison between Hardman and McKenzie while indicating it is a significant void to fill. Nevertheless, he believes they have resembling skill sets.

“(Hardman) was so dynamic with the ball, and he touched it all the time at quarterback,” Fritts said. “He can hurt you once he gets into space and has a knack for allowing it to set up. He’s special.”

On the other hand, Georgia head coach Kirby Smart tried to temper down the conversation regarding Hardman, calling it “fascination.” It has become quite obvious that Hardman is getting a deeper offensive look, but Smart indicated that much of that has been due to Jayson Stanley being sidelined with a concussion.

Even if he is to take an offensive role, Georgia’s coaching staff feels like the playing time during his freshman season was mostly adequate.

“Probably the biggest regret I have is not getting him any returns,” Smart said. “I think he got one return maybe, a kickoff return, but that’s where we wanted to get him in. But a lot of games, things were really tight and we felt like Reggie (Davis) had so much experience. We never got an opportunity to do that.”

Hardman was a two-way player at times with Elbert County, but it wasn’t at the cornerback position. Instead, he was placed in a role in which he could be more versatile at the high school level.

So if Georgia is dedicated to developing Hardman on the defensive perimeter, it won’t be a quick fix.

“It’s a learning process. When we did play him on defense, it was at safety,” Fritts said. “It didn’t do us a lot of good to put him at left corner, because (the opponent) would probably throw at right corner. We played him at safety so he could help over at both sides.”