Hardin said he got something of a jump-start on becoming a successful sprinter because dogs in his Hiram neighborhood chased him as a 6-year-old.
Dogs seem bigger to youngsters, and Hardin said he was motivated by fear and not by a foot race. “I was just trying to outrun them,” Hardin recalled, smiling.
But a lot happened afterwards to make the Wildcat the second runner at the school within a week to sign a letter of intent with the track team at Lenoir-Rhyne University, a Division II school in Hickory, N.C.
Most of it was hard work on his part.
Adrian Steele, his track coach, said Lenoir-Rhyne is getting someone who understands what it takes to be successful as a runner.
“He was my sprint specialist,” Steele said. “He ran the 100-meter and 200-meter dash, the 4-by-1 and 4-by-4 for us and was our No. 1 sprinter his senior year.
“I’ve had the pleasure of coaching him all four of his years with us, and he’s a guy that’s grown and matured into a really good sprinter.”
Hardin also was a long jumper.
Steele said as a senior Hardin was ranked in the region in the 100 meter, running it in 11.19. The Wildcat ran the 200 in 22.9 and ran the anchor leg on the 4-by-1 relay team that was clocked at 42.8 and the 4-by-4 relay team that was timed at 3:28.
“He was a two-time state qualifier and also was an alternate on our 4-by-1 two years in a row,” Steele said.
Hardin showed a lot of mental toughness at Woodland because he attended at a time when the school had good runners and had to “sort of wait his turn” while working hard to become its top sprinter.
Steele said Hardin improved his speed and eventually took his turn as the school’s fastest sprinter, adding that work should pay off for the graduate and for Lenoir-Rhyne University now.
“Derrick has great talent, and it’ll be good to see how he does under coaches who can work with him more,” Steele said.
He said the athlete should make an immediate impact. “He has a lot of power coming out of the blocks. I think he will be a great indoor sprinter. I think Derrick can make an immediate impact.”
Steele said the Division II school will be a good fit. “It’s a program that’s growing and getting better every year.”
Steele said Hardin was more than a good sprinter at Woodland, providing leadership for his team. “This year he was a captain and did a great job in that role. He was a role model for others with his leadership and his work ethic.”
But when asked about his success at Woodland, Hardin talked more about his team’s accomplishments rather than his own.
“In my senior year, Woodland won the region the first time as a team,” he said, adding his junior year the Wildcats finished a close second to Sprayberry. “We missed by about two points. It just killed us. We tried to come back this year and we won it. It’s not a bad way to leave in your senior year.”
Hardin did say during his senior year he managed to improve his speed despite having broken an ankle the summer before at football practice — he played safety and tight end — and having other injuries that hampered his performance.
For example, he ran the 100-meter dash in 11.23 as a junior. He was able to travel that same distance as senior in 11.19 — a dramatic improvement considering.
“I tried to get it to a 10-something,” he added. “I did manage it with a handheld [timer] but that technically doesn’t count.”
Hardin said his 4-by-1 team qualified for state during his sophomore year, although he didn’t actually run at state.
“It was still fun,” he said.
The sprinter said as a junior he was a contributing member of the 4-by-4, winning the region and his team placed sixth in its heat.
He said he had gotten into track in the seventh grade. “Someone told me I should come out for track because I was fast. I was pretty good at it, I guess.”
Hardin said something that changed as he rose in grades was the amount of time he spent working on track. He said in his younger years he waited until track season started to work out.
He said in his later years once football season ended, “I was in the weight room.” Practice was five days a week.
Hardin plans to hit the track program running, so to speak, at Lenoir-Rhyne, which he leaves for Friday.
“My plan is to be one of the fastest when I get there,” he added.
He expects to make a contribution at the school as a sprinter.
He credits that success partially with his attitude and his attention to detail.
“I just don’t want to lose,” Hardin said.
He added he also listens at each of his meets to try to get out of the starting block as quickly as possible.
“Sometimes you have to listen to the heats before you compete to understand how fast they shoot the gun and you time it like that. If you get the faster block start, then you’re most likely going to win the race.”