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AP photo by Thomas Graning / UT Martin's Jason Simpson, center, talks to his players during a game at Ole Miss on Sept. 5, 2015. Simpson is the dean of Ohio Valley Conference football coaches as he enters his 14th season in charge at UTM, and his Skyhawks recently received a commitment from Bradley Central senior defensive end Carlos Hardy Jr. for the 2021 recruiting cycle.

Carlos Hardy Jr. has dreamed about playing Division I football for a while now.

The Bradley Central standout is one step closer to making that dream happen after committing to the University of Tennessee at Martin. Hardy, a 6-foot-2, 245-pound defensive end, shared the news about his nonbinding pledge to the Football Championship Subdivision program in a post to Twitter on Tuesday.

As a junior last year, his first season at Bradley Central after a move from Kentucky, Hardy had 41 tackles, five tackles for loss and three sacks as the Bears went 7-4.

"Once I realized football could pay for my school, I have really been working hard for this day," Hardy said. "UT Martin built a great relationship with my family and has constantly checked in with my mom and kept her updated. I am glad I can continue to do what I love for free there."

UTM went 7-5 last season, when the Skyhawks finished 6-2 in Ohio Valley Conference play. Jason Simpson is entering his 14th season leading the program and has the longest tenure of any current coach in the OVC.

Hardy's biggest strengths are his speed and hands, which he uses to burst through or around offensive lines. One of his biggest games last season was a win against Walker Valley in which he had seven tackles and two sacks.

Football runs in the family as well. Two of Carlos' cousins were senior members of the 2019 McCallie team that won the TSSAA Division II-AAA state championship: DeAngelo Hardy (Kennesaw State signee) and Jay Hardy (Auburn signee). While growing up in Kentucky, he also looked up to his cousin Masai Whyte.

"Masai played college football at Western Kentucky University, and that made me want to follow his footsteps," Hardy said. "When times get hard, he's my go-to person to talk about football, life and school. He's helped me get this far."

Bradley Central's season opener is scheduled for Aug. 21 at Farragut, an opponent the Bears hope to beat for the first time in four years.

Contact Patrick MacCoon at pmaccoon@timesfreepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @PMacCoon.

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