Running For Glory

Georgia Tech’s Leon Hardeman had speed and balance – and he could spin on a dime

It was to be the battle of the century – Georgia Tech All- American running back Leon Hardeman against LSU All-American defensive back Kenny Konz.

It was the first time I had seen Hardeman run and fortunately the last time. It was on Grant Field (Bobby Dodd Stadium) in 1951. I don’t remember which quarter of the game it was, but I do remember the confrontation. Hardeman had busted through the vaunted LSU defense, knocking down two linemen and running over two linebackers.

There was only one foe left between Hardeman and the goal line – Konz, the gifted LSU safety man. At full speed, after flattening the linebackers, Leon headed straight for Konz, who crouched low and zeroed in for the kill.

At the last second, Hardeman inched away from Konz’s grip, twisted and turned. Konz dove hopelessly into space and Hardeman cut to his left and set sail down the left sideline for 45 yards and a touchdown.

Fortunately I missed Hardeman’s next exhibition of brilliance. This was also at Grant Field and it was Hardeman against the whole Georgia Bulldog team. Hardeman won, 48-6.

I’ll let brilliant All-SEC Tech quarterback, Darrell Crawford, tell what happened: “We were on the Georgia 40-yard line. I remember putting the ball in Leon’s belly and he literally exploded out of the backfield, ran by one linebacker and over the other linebacker. The two Georgia sidebacks converged on him, but Leon gave one a fake to the left and the other a fake to the right. Then two Georgia linemen came out of nowhere and had Leon trapped. But not for long. He escaped the trap and headed for All-American defensive back Claude Hipps and the goal line.

“Leon literally went under Hipps without touching the ground then turned on the burner for the last 10 yards and the goal line. It was the most fantastic run I ever saw.”

Hardeman was a mere 5’ 7,” 170 pounds when he played at Tech. But he was gifted with great balance. He could change directions with ease. He could spin on a dime.

He was a unanimous All-American choice in 1952 when he led Tech to an undefeated season and a share of the national championship with unbeaten Michigan State.

Twice named All-SEC, Hardeman also was named SEC “Player of The Year” in 1952 by the United Press. He led the Jackets to three major bowl wins and to a three-year record of 32-2-2.

Hardeman was the most valuable player in the 1953 Sugar Bowl. For his career he gained 1,794 yards, fifth best in Tech history and scored 22 touchdowns. He was named to Bobby Dodd’s 1945-1966 all-time team and eventually to the Georgia Tech Hall of Fame.

Here’s what others have to say about Hardeman at Tech:

“The performances of Hardeman were indescribable. You wear out the same adjectives and adverbs trying to give life to the hoofing of the ball carrier. You have to see it to believe it. Against Southern Methodist in 1951, on one run, Hardeman started from the SMU nine yard line, knocked down two Mustangs at the seven, broke through two men at the five and carried two across the goal line with him.” – Furman Bisher

“Leon was the best running back that has ever been on Grant Field.” – Bobby Dodd

Both Hardeman and Dick Inman came from LaFayette. They were teammates at Georgia Tech and best man at each other’s wedding. Inman, a varsity center at Tech, became one of coach Dodd’s top assistants.

“We were like brothers,” Inman said, “and we still are.”

After graduating from Tech, Hardeman served two years in the U.S. Army and then joined Owens-Illinois Co. He started as a salesman and worked his way up to general manager.

Hardeman retired 20 years ago at age 55. He divides his time between his children and the golf course.

He has spent much of his time building homes in Fort Walton Beach, Fla., Big Canoe and a primary residence in Kennesaw.

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