Something clicked in the fourth game of the season for Corey Hardin. From the first snap on offense, a new sense of comfort took over.
Up until that opening drive against Blue Springs, Hardin entered every game overly nervous about the missed blocking assignments that seemed to continually plague him.
Hardin can’t explain what exactly happened. All he knows is once he snapped that first ball for Hickman’s offense and looked up at the opposing defense, those assignments suddenly became clear.
“I saw the linebackers blitz, and I saw the stunts and the reverts,” Hardin said. “Everything opened up.”
It didn’t matter that the opponent was top-ranked Blue Springs or, as Hickman’s center, Hardin would be going up against interior defensive linemen who outweighed him by more than 50 pounds throughout the game.
The 5-foot-10, 210-pound senior typically lined up across from defensive linemen who were bigger and stronger. He had grown accustomed to using his height as added leverage and his relatively quick feet to compensate for his smaller size.
Receiving scattered playing time from the beginning of his junior season, however, Hardin struggled to solidify himself as a starting offensive lineman because he wasn’t as assignment sound as he needed to be.
“Corey’s biggest weakness up until the last four ballgames is that he’s made some mental mistakes,” offensive line coach Steve Luetjen said. “Ever since Blue Springs, where I think the lights turned on, his confidence level just soared with that game.”
Entering his senior year primarily getting snaps at guard, Hardin jumped on an opportunity three games into the season to move into an open center position when the coaching staff decided to shuffle the offensive line, moving all-state center, Luke Harper, to right guard.
“(Hardin) has just refused to be the weak link in there,” coach Gregg Nesbitt said. “He wanted desperately to be part of the team, so he did whatever he had to do to elevate his game to make certain he was one of those guys out on the field.”
According to Luetjen, the coaching staff felt that the offense would be more effective with Hardin at center sandwiched between the Kewpies’ biggest linemen, Harper (265 pounds) and Cavelle Cole-Neal (275 pounds).
After what Luetjen called Hardin’s best game of the year against Blue Springs, an offensive line that was somewhat in question before, legitimized itself.
The front five of Joe Schumacher and Alex Geiger at the left and right tackles, respectively, along with Hardin, Harper and Cole-Neal, have anchored an offense that is averaging 215 rushing yards a game heading into tonight’s district match up where Hickman will play host to Fort Zumwalt West at 7.
Tonight’s game marks the first of three district games that will conclude Hickman’s regular season. The Kewpies’ 5-1 record and No. 1 ranking in Class 6 holds little clout with district play arriving.
“Obviously, we’re going to be the front-runner through the media,” Nesbitt said. “There’s a bulls eye on our back. We might as well embrace it because it’s not going away.”
Hickman’s first test will see a Zumwalt West squad that is coming off a 6-0 shutout against previously undefeated Francis Howell North. Nesbitt said his team must continue to improve from last week’s 54-0 win against Riverview Gardens, acknowledging that the Jaguars have won their past four districts.
“A huge percentage of teams peak somewhere in the middle of the season and get worse,” Nesbitt said. “We don’t want to be one of those teams.”
The last match up between these two teams took place last season in the state quarterfinals where the Kewpies advanced to semifinals with a 24-8 win.