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Harden back in the mix
090911 SHS HARDEN 1
Statesboro linebacker Corey Harden, top right, gangs up with teammates on Tattnall County quarterback Chaz Kicklighter in this Sept. 9, 2011, file photo. - photo by SCOTT BRYANT/staff

Statesboro (0-0) at Lakeside (0-0)
7:30 p.m.

    Two games into the 2011 season, it looked as though Statesboro junior outside linebacker Corey Harden was in line for a special year.
    Harden had proven himself worthy of a starting position and was the hero of the Blue Devils’ 31-26 win over Washington County when he intercepted a pass and returned it for a touchdown late in the fourth quarter.
    But Harden’s season came to a sudden and painful end just one week later. Late in Statesboro’s win over Tattnall County, Harden suffered a torn ACL and was lost for the season.
    “I was following the play and got hit from behind,” said Harden. “I went down and felt a pop. I wasn’t sure how bad it was, but as soon as (athletic trainer Tim Ussery) looked at it, we knew it wasn’t good.”
    Harden was forced to the sidelines for the final eight games of the season. Even though he was with his teammates throughout the Devils’ run to a second straight region title, he couldn’t help but feel a little guilty at the end of the season.
    “When we lost that first game (of the GHSA state playoffs), it killed me that I couldn’t be out there with my teammates,” said Harden. “The whole time, I just wanted to be able to do something to help.”
    The best thing that he could do to help his team was to get healthy and make his way back onto the field this season.
    Almost immediately following the injury, Harden has been taking all of the necessary steps to return to form.
    “Corey has always had that workmanlike attitude,” said SHS coach Steve Pennington. “He’s an unassuming guy that doesn’t say much, but leads by example. After he went down last season, he did everything that he could to prepare for his surgery and has been very diligent and faithful in his rehabilitation process. I think that says a lot about his desire to play this game and about the type of person that Corey Harden is.”
    For Harden — as is the case with many athletes who have suffered a major injury — the hardest part about recovery was taking things slow. Bouncing back from surgery to repair a torn ACL is a process that requires constant work, but that also forces players to limit themselves and stay within their abilities.
    Harden has taken every step necessary and was cleared to begin full contact drills when Statesboro began fall practice at the beginning of the month.
    For him, the motivation always came from that final game of 2011 that he wanted to play in so badly.
    “Everybody was pretty down after the game,” said Harden. “A lot of last year’s seniors came up to me. They told me to work hard and get back. I was going to be a senior next year and they told me that the team would need me. That stuck with me the whole time I was trying to get healthy.”
    Harden has been able to make cuts and take hits, but suffered a setback last week when he pulled a hamstring.
    The injury is enough that Pennington expects him to miss a game or two, but Harden is still in high spirits.
    After spending nearly a year on the road to recovery, Harden is determined to get back into game action alongside his teammates.
    “It’s not about starting or making all of the big plays,” said Harden. “I just want to get in there as soon as possible and help this team. I’ve been on the sidelines long enough.”

    Mike Anthony may be reached at (912) 489-9404.