Comfort key for Mecole Hardman as receiver builds on breakout sophomore season
When Georgia wide receiver Mecole Hardman spoke to the media after practice on Tuesday, there was one attribute that stood out about him off the field that is now applying to his play on it: Comfort.
The 2017 season was Hardman’s first at wide receiver after spending his freshman season at defensive back and on special teams. He began to transition to receiver last spring, before his sophomore season, and by the season’s end, Hardman was an electric playmaker for the Georgia offense.
Hardman registered only four offensive touches in Georgia’s College Football Playoff National Championship Game loss against Alabama on Jan. 8. But he totaled 90 yards of offense and two touchdowns with the limited touches.
However, it was not the smoothest road for Hardman during his first season at wide receiver, as he went the first six games of the season without surpassing 30 receiving yards. He also had more than one catch in a game just once in that span. He also had a crucial drop on a deep pass in Georgia’s Sept. 9 win over Notre Dame.
But now with an entire season at receiver under his belt, Hardman is ready to break out.
“I feel good, I feel in place,” Hardman said. “I feel like I’m where I’m supposed to be at. Definitely, being at a set position, you can put your mind on just receiver and do what you’re supposed to do.”
The tide turned for Hardman as a wide receiver after Georgia’s Oct. 14 win over Missouri.
In the Bulldogs’ win at home over the Tigers, Hardman tallied two catches for 71 yards and one touchdown through the air, while he also added a 35-yard rushing touchdown. The game was the first of Hardman’s career in which he had multiple scores and his play began to pick up after his performance against Missouri.
“Before [the Missouri game], I don’t know what was going on,” Hardman said. “I was dropping things, I couldn’t get open. I was like, ‘Dang.’ But after that Missouri game, I guess it just clicked and after that I had a good thing going for me.”
After the Missouri game, Hardman got much more involved in the Georgia offense and in the return game. In addition to his strong performance in the national title game, he racked up 67 receiving yards on four catches against Auburn in the SEC championship game and also had 203 all-purpose yards in Georgia’s regular-season loss to Auburn on Nov. 11. Hardman also had 120 all-purpose yards against Georgia Tech on Nov. 25 and had 41 receiving yards and a touchdown against South Carolina on Nov. 4.
Hardman finished his sophomore season with 1,255 all-purpose yards, including 418 receiving yards, and six total touchdowns. And now, with an entire offseason and spring camp to work on his craft at wide receiver, the expectations are high for Hardman heading into his junior season.
“If you look at last spring to this spring, and include the season in, Mecole has gotten a whole lot better,” junior tight end Charlie Woerner said. “And he just keeps on working at it and I think he is going to be one of the stars of the future. He already is, and he’s going to keep getting better.”
So far in spring practice, Hardman appears to be impressing his teammates and coaches. On Saturday, head coach Kirby Smart pointed to Hardman, along with fellow receivers Terry Godwin and Riley Ridley, as players that “clearly have a presence about them, a confidence about them.”
Hardman’s sense of confidence stems from being more comfortable at his position and having had a strong finish to last season. While his performance in the national title game was strong, he will use it, not only to fuel his confidence, but to ignite his hunger in hopes of avenging Georgia’s defeat in the national championship game.
“[My performance in the national championship game gave me] a lot of momentum, especially on a big stage like that against a great team,” Hardman said. “When you do stuff like that, it boosts your confidence to a whole new level and it gives you more motivation behind you going into the spring [when you are] trying to get back to that spot.”