The track and field team looks for another tremendous showing this weekend as the Aggies participate in the 120th Penn Relay Carnival in Philadelphia.
senior Prezel Hardy, Jr. tearing up track
as Aggies make another run for the national title
by Rusty Burson
12th Man Magazine
On April 22, 2014, Texas A&M senior sprinter Prezel “P.J.” Hardy, Jr. was chosen as the SEC men’s Runner of the Week for his sensational performance three days earlier at the LSU Alumni Gold Invitational in Baton Rouge, La.
Hardy ran in four races for the Aggies last Saturday, winning the 200 meters in a wind-aided time of 20.14, the second fastest time in the world in 2014 under all conditions. Hardy also finished third in the 100 meters; he ran the first leg of the 4x100 relay team that finished third; and he ran the second leg of the 4x400 relay that won the meet title in a time of 3:02.64, A&M season-best so far.
Hardy will attempt to build on that performance this weekend as the A&M men’s and women’s track and field teams compete in the 120th Penn Relay Carnival at Philadelphia’s historic Franklin Field. After the Penn Relays, the Aggies have just one more meet before the SEC Outdoor Championships on May 15-18.
The A&M women are currently ranked No. 1 in the nation, while the men are No. 3. The multi-talented Hardy will play a key role in the men’s hunt for a fifth outdoor national championship under Pat Henry, and it appears that Hardy may be hitting his stride at just the right time of year.
That’s obviously good news for the Aggies and for Hardy’s mother, Charlotte Wesley, who can stop searching for a “germ bag.”
Earlier this year, Wesley chose not to make the drive from her home in Killeen to College Station—as she typically does—because Hardy informed his mother on the morning of Jan. 18 that he was feeling so weak and sick that he was probably not even going to attempt to compete.
“I decided to stay home because we all had the flu at Christmas, and I didn’t want to expose myself and the rest of the family to anything else,” Wesley said. “I figured I would just watch the meet on TV (A&M home meets are streamed live on 12thManTV). I told him to call me after he went to see the doctor, but he never called back.
- head coach Pat Henry
“I finally turned on the TV when it was time for the meet, and then I saw P.J. lining up for the 60 (meter dash). He wins it and breaks the school record. Later on, I see him run the 200, and he wins that, too. He actually had a stomach virus, not the flu, but he was so good that day that I am looking into where I can buy a bag of stomach virus germs so I can sprinkle them over P.J.’s head the day before the meet.”
Based on what he did last Saturday in Baton Rouge, that’s probably no longer necessary. After all, Hardy has now proven that he can be at his best in sickness and in healthy.
Hardy’s Jan. 18 time in the 60 meters (6.56 seconds) broke Gerald Phiri’s school record of 6.59, which Phiri ran on four different occasions from 2009-11. Later in the meet, Hardy returned to run a personal indoor best of 20.70 over 200 meters. Hardy moved to No. 5 on A&M’s all-time list in the 200, improving his previous best of 20.78. He also broke a second meet record held by Phiri, who ran 20.87 in 2010.
“I’m proud of what I was able to accomplish in that (Jan. 18) meet,” said the 21-year-old Hardy, who is majoring in Kinesiology. “With this being my senior year, I have some big goals I would like to achieve on the track. What I’ve been able to be a part of as a team since I’ve been here (men’s outdoor national championships in 2011 and ’13) has been incredible, and I want to finish up with another team title. But I also want to win my own national championship (in one of the individual races). I want to contribute to the team national championship with my own championship.”
Texas A&M track and field head coach Pat Henry believes the 5-foot-8, 163-pound Hardy possesses the potential to do just that. Henry raves about Hardy’s team-oriented focus and his unselfishness. But Henry also believes that Hardy is capable of leaving Aggieland with quite a legacy.
“He is a guy who understands the dynamics of a team,” said Henry, who has guided his men’s and women’s teams to 34 NCAA national championships during his distinguished coaching career. “He understands about making contributions to the team, and his contributions as a leader are very valuable. He sets a good example. P.J. is one of those guys who is never late. He is always ahead of time. He is always encouraging the other members of the team, and he does things the right way. P.J. is a role model in so many ways.
“He is also a young man who is capable of some really outstanding things on the track. We have had a lot of fast guys come through Texas A&M, but I think he can be the fastest. He is that talented.”
Hardy acknowledges that he grew up dreaming about accomplishing some great things on the collegiate athletics level. But those dreams once seemed rather far-fetched.
His mother and grandparents recall that, even as a toddler, Hardy had a tendency to take off running whenever he was removed from his car seat or the car door opened. But he wasn’t necessarily moving at breakneck speed.
- P.J. Hardy, Jr.
As a seventh grader, Hardy’s 100-meter dash times were not turning any heads. He mostly clocked times in the 13- to 14-second range. But during the summer entering his eighth grade year, Hardy began experiencing some positive physical changes.
“I was less then mediocre as a seventh-grader, and I was getting beat pretty badly in races,” he said. “I hit puberty, and going into my eighth grade year, I ran 10.72 in the 100. I broke the school record, which still stands today. I didn’t do anything special in the summer like lifting weights or anything. God just blessed me with some speed. That’s when I first started thinking I could possibly be talented enough to make something of myself (on the collegiate level).”
He certainly wasn’t envisioning himself wearing maroon and white. Or wearing shorts, either.
Hardy, whose mother and step-father are both retired from the military, was born in Italy on June 1, 1992. The family’s military-affiliated travels have taken them across the country and around the world.
For the most part, though, Hardy has always called Central Texas his home. His maternal grandfather attended the University of Texas, and Charlotte Wesley grew up in Austin wearing burnt orange.
Even though she was stationed in countries such as Italy and Germany and lived in numerous communities throughout the United States as an adult, Wesley and her husband, Patric, primarily called Fort Hood in Killeen their “home base.”
When they retired from the military, the couple settled in Killeen, allowing P.J. to attend Killeen public schools from the time he was in the fourth grade until he finished high school at Killeen Ellison.
Throughout most of those years, Hardy had one collegiate vision: Playing football for Mack Brown and the Longhorns. He intended to use his blazing speed to play wide receiver or defensive back for the Longhorns.
“Growing up, I don’t think he had any other color in his wardrobe other than burnt orange,” Wesley said. “I’m a native Austin girl, so that was fine by me. In his freshman year at Ellison, I was reassigned to Oklahoma, and we had to make a decision. Do I leave the kids here in Texas, or do I pack up everyone to go to Oklahoma? I made a last-minute decision not to move him because P.J. wanted to finish school in Texas.
“I wrote in his Bible, ‘Four years from now, you will find your home at the University of Texas.’ I really believed he was destined for Texas one way or another. By that time, I wasn’t sure if track might be a better way for him to get there than football, but I just knew he was going to be a Longhorn because that’s all he ever talked about.”
At 5-foot-8, Hardy did not develop into a prime college football prospect. But after winning the 2009 Class 5A title in the 100 with a wind-aided time of 10.08 (the third-fastest high school time ever under any conditions), Hardy had plenty of track and field suitors, including the University of Texas.
He says he was tempted to make just one collegiate visit—to Texas—but he decided it would be wise to at least visit other schools like LSU, Baylor and the school he had grown up hating, Texas A&M. On those four visits, he asked the coaches if he could also try to play football.
Three of them said that would be permissible. Only Pat Henry said that was not an option he wanted Hardy to pursue.
Hardy says he was actually hoping that he would visit A&M and despise Aggieland, just as he did when he was younger. But he noticed something different about the track and field team at A&M. The members of the A&M squad truly seemed to like one another, and they welcomed Hardy unlike some of the other schools.
“I wanted a family atmosphere,” Hardy said. “All my other visits were great, but I just didn’t experience that family environment that I felt at Texas A&M. I went to a football game, and the Aggies lost the game. Then we went to a little get-together at a house where one of the track guys lived. I wouldn’t even call it a party, especially not compared to some of the parties I had gone to on my other visits.
“We played charades, played another game and had a rap contest. It was just laid back and everybody seemed to like one another. I enjoyed myself and I loosened up. A&M just felt right, and I knew Coach Henry was the best of the best. I decided to come to Texas A&M, and without a doubt, that was the best decision I have ever made.”
While there are still many things that Hardy would like to achieve before his collegiate career at A&M is complete, he says he’s already experienced one extremely meaningful moment that cannot be topped by anything he might accomplish this spring.
The former Texas fan says he was overwhelmed with emotion the day he received his Aggie ring.
“I got my Aggie ring last November,” Hardy said. “I can remember being anxious waiting for it. I had my grandfather put it on me because it was just ironic. My grandfather graduated from the University of Texas, and I grew up a big Longhorns fan.
“I cried when he put it on me. I didn’t cry when I got my national championship rings or my Big 12 championship ring. But I cried when I got my Aggie ring. I felt like this had more of significance. I’m really proud to be an Aggie, and I will wear this ring for the rest of my life.”