Five years ago this week, James Hardy made every football fan in town stop and say, “Wow!” His four touchdowns helped Elmhurst break a state-record 64-game losing streak in a 27-23 victory over Bishop Dwenger.
Now, Hardy wants to stupefy the people of Buffalo in a similar way and, while he’s at it, everybody else.
“I’m trying to reach the rest of the United States,” he said, “and the rest of the world.”
Hardy, 22, is a rookie with the Buffalo Bills, a 6-foot-5, 212-pound wide receiver, selected in the second round of the NFL draft out of Indiana.
He was scheduled to make his return to his home state today, in a preseason game against the Indianapolis Colts, but a hamstring injury and the Bills’ need to look at other players on the roster sideswiped that, and he wasn’t expected to make the trip to Lucas Oil Stadium.
“Hey, they already know (in Indiana) what I can do,” Hardy said, laughing.
Hardy said he’s tried to emulate Randy Moss, Terrell Owens and Herman Moore on his way to the NFL.
But Hardy knows he needs to continue to improve.
“I criticize myself each and every day to be the best I can be,” he said. “I’m young at this position, and there are things I need to work on, like my blocking and (running of) routes can be better.”
Hardy has been pulling fullbacks aside, asking them for tips on blocking.
He’s been picking the brain of Lee Evans, the Bills’ speedy veteran receiver. He’s even gone to the players in the secondary, like new best friend Donte Whitner, to find out how to beat coverages.
“I came in with the mind frame that you have to learn from people who have been at this level,” Hardy said.
“I’ve only been playing organized football for (six) years, so I have more to digest than the average rookie. But my determination is higher.”
And that brings us back to that night at Fred Zollner Stadium. He had been long regarded as one of the best basketball prospects in the area, already committed to play for Indiana University, but his performance against the Saints got everyone wondering whether he’d be a two-sport star.
Back then, he wouldn’t have fathomed that he’d end up in the NFL instead of the NBA.
“At that time, I thought I’d be in the NBA by now,” Hardy said. “Then, coming out of high school, I had the mind frame that whichever coach in each sport would let me do what I can do, that would be the sport I’d be able to jump to the next level.”
So he finds himself with the Bills, not having played organized basketball since his freshman year at IU. And his rise to stardom really began five years ago, when few would have expected it.
“I watch the clips of (that game) every now and then … and breaking that (losing streak) was something people thought would never happen,” Hardy said.
“I sort of want to take that same mind-set and bring it here. Buffalo hasn’t been in the playoffs in nine years, so we’ll make it happen.”