Khari Harding's season didn't exactly get off to the kind of start he wanted.
Early in the Wolves' first game against Midwest City, Bombers running back Qualan Johnson put an exclamation point on one of his carries with a crushing hit on Harding.
It didn't take long, though, for Harding to return the favor.
Just a few plays later, Harding came up and laid out Johnson with a big-time hit of his own.
“I don't back down from anything,” Harding said. “I'm going to come back the next time with a fire and that's what I did.”
Harding finished the season with 109 tackles and three interceptions, earning Oklahoman All-State honors.
“He was a more physical football player this year and it started in the summer and led right into the season,” Santa Fe coach Lance Manning said. “I also think his grasp of the defense was a lot better this year. His ability to line up and be in the right spot and help get his teammates into the right spot was a lot better this season.”
Not a lot went right in Santa Fe's 52-19 loss to Tulsa Union in the second round, but Harding had his best performance of the season.
He recorded 20 tackles.
“He was really consistent and played well that night,” Manning said. “That was his best game of the year.”
It was a tumultuous year for Harding in a lot of ways.
First, not long after Harding committed to Arkansas, Razorbacks coach Bobby Petrino was caught up in a scandal that eventually led to his firing.
Through the coaching changes from John L. Smith to Bret Bielema, Harding remains committed to the Razorbacks.
Later in the year, his father was diagnosed with cancer and Harding spent two weeks with teammate Trevan Smith and his family while Corie Harding was in the hospital.
Harding gives his father much of the credit for turning in him into the player he has become.
“My dad means everything to me,” Harding said. “He's been there for me. He's my biggest critic and says everything I do wrong but he also says all the good too.”
Through that turmoil, though, Harding kept performing.
“Khari is great at staying focused,” Smith said. “A lot went on with him this year and it's probably hard to keep a level head with all that recruiting stuff going on.”
Harding also gives plenty of credit to Smith and his family for helping him through his tough time.
“He and his dad took me in, they fed me and they did everything they could for me while he was in the hospital so that was great,” Harding said.