POSTED: 1:30 a.m. HST, Aug 31, 2012
LAST UPDATED: 2:32 a.m. HST, Aug 31, 2012
Crowds don't bother Scott Harding much at this point.
A veteran of Australian Rules Football, Harding arrived in Hawaii with the experience of having played in front of stadiums filled with up to 75,000 fans. He thrived in securing the ball despite heavy physical contact and no protective padding.
So in just his second season playing American football, he's already proven his ability to keep his hands steady while blocking out the noise from the stands or the mayhem surrounding him on the field.
"I know I can trust that with myself," Harding said.
Harding's reliability earned him a job as the Warriors' punt returner last year and he's worked to win the trust of the Hawaii coaches and quarterbacks since the spring to take on a far more prominent role in the offense.
"He's a real steady guy," said Tommy Lee, UH's offensive coordinator and receivers coach. "He's quite an athlete. … Doesn't look flashy but just makes plays. He's not the fastest guy we've got, but he's got some speed, and he knows how to run routes and get open."
Harding got his first exposure to the American game a year ago, and his knack for learning quickly was especially evident in the spring as he ascended to a starting role at one of the wide receiver spots in the Warriors' transition to a pro-style offense.
He returned to Australia early in the summer, concentrating on improving his quickness and learning the new system in hopes of taking on a veteran presence though still classified as a sophomore.
"I just wanted to work on my lateral speed and my explosive power," Harding said. "I've improved that from last season and just learning the whole new concepts for this offense. It's a lot different to pick up a new offense and I wanted to make sure I was one of the ones that knew it all."
"He's a little older than the rest of the guys, so he brings some of that maturity to the field," Lee said.
Although he practiced at slot receiver in the run-and-shoot last year, Harding was essentially a specialist as a freshman.
He was named to the Football Writers Association of America freshman All-America team as a punt returner after averaging 7.4 yards on his 19 returns and proving reliable in catching the ball in traffic. He also fielded 12 kickoffs with an average of 21.1 yards. All of his offensive production came late in a blowout of UC Davis, when he caught six passes for 67 yards.
Harding's crisp route-running and ball security moved him to the forefront in the spring, and one of his top priorities in fall camp was establishing a rhythm with new quarterback Sean Schroeder, who was named the starter shortly after joined the team in the summer.
"We constantly work on it every session," Harding said. "You have to have a good relationship with the guy who's throwing to you because he's got to know where you're moving and you have to know what he's thinking."
Where Australians had enjoyed success at UH as punters in the past and present, Harding preferred carrying the ball rather than kicking it away. He worked with Nathan Chapman of Prokick Australia, who had also helped current punter Alex Dunnachie land a spot with the Warriors, to prepare for the shift to a new sport after six years playing professionally in the Australian Football League.
"He kind of groomed me for a receiver position and punt return," Harding said. "I was catching all these punters every day, catching hundreds of punts."
He's also adjusted to the preponderance of equipment in the American game.
"Catching balls is easier (in Australian Rules) because you've got the pads in the way and the helmet blocking your vision a little bit," Harding said. "In Australian football you've got freedom, you just run around and it's pretty loose and flexible. But you're a lot more protected too, so if you're hit you don't have to feel it."