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February 12, 2009
OXFORD, Miss. - Andy Hartmann hated to see Jason Cook's eligibility expire at the end of last season.
On the other hand, Ole Miss' rising senior fullback knew Cook had to move on for him to get his chance to be a starter in the Southeastern Conference.
"I'm so excited," Hartmann said earlier this week. "It's a shame to lose Jason. He's such a great friend to me and he's my roommate and everything, but he's excited for me too. I'm so excited to show coach and everybody what I can do."
Hartmann got a taste of the starter's role late last season when Cook was injured during the first quarter of the Rebels' 45-0 victory over Mississippi State. Cook's injured knee healed enough for him to play sparingly in Ole Miss' Cotton Bowl win over Texas Tech, but Hartmann started and played every significant snap at fullback.
"That gave me confidence in myself, because I think in those two games, I played fairly well," Hartmann said. "It gave me hope leading into this season that yeah, I can do it. I'm just excited about showing everybody that hopefully, I can do more."
Last season, Hartmann had one carry for 10 yards. He added two receptions for 11 yards. Cook, who started 11 games, had one carry and seven receptions. With Cordera Eason, Dexter McCluster, Derrick Davis, Brandon Bolden, Enrique Davis and Devin Thomas returning and a host of freshmen - including heralded four-star Rodney Scott -reporting this summer, the fullback's role in the Rebels' multidimensional offense is undetermined.
"I hope it's as much as Coach [Houston] Nutt lets me do," Hartmann said. "[Ole Miss strength and conditioning coach Don Decker] has me working on a lot more speed and more agility, so hopefully in pass situations, I can go out on more routes. It's whatever Coach Nutt asks me to do pretty much."
Hartmann said he expects Ole Miss' running game to improve in 2009, a pretty heady prediction given the effectiveness of the ground attack late last season.
"They're all really young except for Cordera, and I think Cordera is an amazing running back," Hartmann said. " You saw Brandon in the [Cotton Bowl] and Enrique is awesome. I just try to block guys and let them make plays like they were born to do."
Hartmann said he's far more concerned with team goals than individual accomplishments. Ole Miss finished 2008 with a 9-4 record and a No. 14 national ranking. Now, the Rebels get set for spring practice (tentatively scheduled to begin March 26) with loftier goals in mind.
"Before, we didn't know how to win games," Hartmann said. "Now we know how to win them and we've gotten on a pretty good roll. Now we just have to keep a sense of being unsatisfied. We don't want to settle for being a Cinderella. We want to be on top."