One-handed player from Fairborn wins cheers

2005 grad Cory Hardin competed in college despite losing hand in crash

It didn’t make SportsCenter. You won’t find it on YouTube. But the play Cory Hardin made that day last fall is forever etched in the mind of College of Mount St. Joseph football coach Rod Huber.

“I’ve never seen anything like it,” Huber said. “It brought tears to my eyes.”

The Mount, a Division III school in Cincinnati, led Manchester (Ind.) College by a touchdown late in the game.

With Manchester driving, a ball was thrown deep and Hardin, a senior strong safety, picked it off with his left hand.

Momentum seized, The Mount went on to win and clinch the Heartland Conference championship.

Thursday night, Feb. 18, the 2005 Fairborn High School graduate who lost his right hand in a car accident in July of that year took home the Tom Potter Memorial Award of Courage at the National Football Foundation dinner in Cincinnati — not for any one play, but for overcoming such a physical obstacle.

“Cory is an unbelievable example of what can be accomplished with hard work,” Huber said of his co-captain. “We don’t see him as gifted or special, he’s just Cory.

“There’s never been an excuse, never a ‘woe is me.’ ”

That fateful day

Not long before he was to begin at St. Joseph’s College in Rensselaer, Ind, Hardin was visiting his brother in Boca Raton, Fla., and they were driving along I-95 to get some breakfast.

Eugene Hardin Jr. was at the wheel of his Land Rover with his girlfriend (now wife), Tamika, next to him. Cory Hardin was in the back.

In the collision, the Land Rover tipped over.

“We all had seatbelts on,” Cory Hardin said. “I stayed in the seat, but when I went to brace myself and the car landed on the passenger side, my arm went out the window and my hand got caught. There was so much force.”

During a five-day hospital stay, doctors tried saving the hand, but the damage was too extensive.

“It was a pretty bad deal,” Hardin said. “My brother ended up OK, but (Tamika) lost her arm up to her elbow. I’m blessed that I just had the little injuries I had. I can still do some things with two arms, but when I look at her, it’s kind of heart-wrenching.

“I’m grateful for everything I have now.”

Physical therapy began about a month afterward and Hardin honored his commitment to Saint Joseph’s. After sitting out his freshman season, he was determined to play football again, however, and with the help of a metal clamp that enabled him to work out with weights, he was back on the field in the fall of 2006.

“Pound for pound, he’s the strongest kid I’ve ever coached,” said Huber, who has been in the business 27 years. “He’s possessed in the weight room.”

Closer to home

Hardin opted to finish his career closer to home; his mom, Carol Hardin, resides in Fairborn. One of the coaches at St. Joseph’s had played at The Mount and that’s how he ended up there.

Huber knew catching the football and tackling would be huge challenges for a one-handed defensive back, but he gave him a chance. At Fairborn, after all, the Skyhawks had gone 7-3 in 2004 with Hardin starring alongside quarterback Nico Yantko and the late Chris Kernich.

“Tackling in the open field was an issue,” Huber said, “but he overcame it by studying videotape and being in the right spots. It’s been amazing to watch him play with one hand.”

Hardin, who will graduate in May with a sports management degree and hopes to become a coach, is modest enough to downplay what became his signature play:

“I wouldn’t say one-handed; I kind of trapped it on my chest. That’s Coach Huber for you. He knows how to make any story exciting. He’s the type of guy who makes coffee nervous.”

Hardin became the 14th recipient of the courage award, the first college athlete honored. He accepted a plaque in front of about 400 attendees at the Omni Hilton in downtown Cincinnati.

“To be honest, I didn’t expect it to be as big as it was,” he said. “You walk in and, ‘Oh wow, there’s Anthony Munoz.’ Solomon Wilcots from ESPN was the emcee. I’m not a ‘big spotlight’ guy. I didn’t even tell many people.

“But the night was great.”

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