Ole Miss DE Greg Hardy to return for senior season

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — Mississippi defensive end Greg Hardy announced Thursday that he will return for his senior season.

The move bolsters what already looks like a promising season for the Rebels, who finished ranked 14th and beat Texas Tech in the Cotton Bowl. Hardy averaged a sack per game over the last two seasons and is among the most talented players in the Southeastern Conference. But he struggled with an injury and a suspension during that time, limiting his performance.

I’m excited to return for my senior year and look forward to helping our team build on the success we enjoyed this season,” Hardy said.

The 6-foot-4, 265-pound Millington, Tenn., native had 8.5 sacks this season despite playing in just nine games. He would have finished third in the SEC and seventh in the nation in sacks, but didn’t reach the benchmark of playing in 75 percent of the Rebels’ games to be included.

Hardy likely would have gone in the top half of April’s NFL draft, but will improve his draft status and the resulting payday with a return. Thursday was the deadline for third year sophomores and juniors to declare for the draft.

“We’re very excited Greg has decided to return to school,” coach Houston Nutt said. “I had a good visit with his mom, and Greg has more he wants to accomplish. He talked about how much he loved the bowl experience and he has personal goals he wants to attain.”

Like with Michael Oher, the talented All-American left tackle who first decided to turn pro after last season before changing his mind, Nutt believes convincing Hardy to return is akin to a recruiting victory.

He adds teeth to a defensive line that’s expected to be among the Southeastern Conference’s best even with the loss of All-American Peria Jerry.

Though he was limited by a broken foot that required surgery before the season started, Hardy still showed flashes of the brilliance that makes him one of college football’s most dangerous pass rushers. He helped the Rebels upset eventual national champion Florida with 1.5 sacks and ended up on the cover of Sports Illustrated, harassing Tim Tebow.

But he reinjured the foot, then ran afoul of coaches who questioned his attitude. By the end of the regular season, however, he was again a factor with three sacks in a 45-0 win over archrival Mississippi State.

With his help, Ole Miss tied for most tackles for loss in the nation with 112 and finished fourth in sacks with 39.

The extra year will allow him a chance to wipe away the questions about his performance. Nutt said Hardy was always respectful when dealing with coaches, but that his effort wasn’t always there.

He now has a chance to show NFL teams just how productive he can be.

“Professional football is a goal every college player strives to reach, but I feel it is in my best interest to return to school,” Hardy said. “My parents support my decision and I know my mom wants me to graduate from Ole Miss.”

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