Catching up with Daniel Hardy (Football)
What a difference a year makes for Anchorage’s Daniel Hardy and the Idaho Vandals.
At this time last year they were an easy mark on the gridiron, slugging their way to a 1-11 record.
Now they’re one of the feel-good stories in college football.
Idaho has rattled off a 6-1 start and sits atop the WAC standings, helping the program become bowl eligible for the first time in 1998. And there are still five games to play, including a showdown with BCS spoiler Boise State.
It’s amazing to see how far the Vandals have come in just one year.
“We expect to win,” Hardy said by telephone from Moscow, Idaho. “I don’t think that was the case in the past.”
The community has taken notice, too, because after all, everybody loves a winner.
“You go to the stores and it seems like people are smiling more,” the Alaskan tight end said. “Winning just produces happiness.”
Hardy, 22, is loving life. Not only is he enjoying a breakout season with 19-322-2 totals but the 6-foot-4 junior is helping Idaho change the losing perception associated with last year’s debacle.
“It’s a blessing to be in this position,” he said.
Question: What made you think this year would be different?
Answer: It really started back in the spring when we first got to strap on the pads to etch in a new season and it just carried on through the summer. You’re just seeing all the hard work everybody’s done. It’s really starting to pay off.
Q: So your mindset as a team changed?
A: Definitely. We have so many guys that have experience and I think it’s really translating down throughout the team. They’re talking to the guys, the newcomers and the freshmen, and just getting them on the same page and you see the results on the field. Everybody is really focused. We have this swagger about us.
Q: What does it feel like to score a touchdown in college?
A: (Laughs) It’s kind of indescribable. I always thought – you know, because I kind of grew up loving basketball more than football all the way up until to college – that making the game-winning shot would always top anything in sports for me, but scoring a touchdown in front of thousands of your fans … it’s amazing. But I like scoring on the road even more because there’s nothing like quieting 40,000 people. It’s pretty surreal. It’s crazy.
Q: You got a touchdown dance?
A: Actually no. My dad always preached to me to be humble. So he said, ‘If you ever get in the end zone, act like you’ve been there before. Just hand the ball to the ref.’ That’s usually what I’ll do.
Q: Well anymore than that and you get a flag, right?
A: Yeah, I know my coaches wouldn’t be too happy about that regardless how nice the touchdown was, so you really want to show some humility once you get in there.
Q: Do you feel like you have vindicated yourself and proved that you’re not just a one-play wonder?
A: I think it comes more from just getting an opportunity. In the past I had to start from just making plays in practice just to get an opportunity to get a chance in a game. Once I got chances in the game I had to make plays there. It kind of started like that. It took a lot of hard work to get in the position I’m in now. They are finally giving me more chances. Coming into this year (the coaches) told me they expected me to take on more of a playmaker role, especially after our leading receiver, Eddie Williams, went to the NFL. I just wanted to be someone who made plays and so far I feel like I’ve become a reliable target.
Q: How do you get your quarterback to throw you the ball more? Are there bribes involved?
A: Well, you can work out with them more in the weight room and you can go out to eat more with them. But really the biggest thing is just having relationship off the field where you’re just great friends. I think the trust factor plays such a big role once you get on the field because, say you’re one-on-one with a corner, linebacker, safety, whoever, if he doesn’t really trust you like, ‘Man, I don’t know about this guy,’ then maybe he won’t throw it up to you. But if you have a really good rapport and can trust you to make plays then he’s going to throw that 50-50 ball because he’s going to expect you to come down with it.
Q: Did you follow the progress of you alma mater, West High?
A: Yeah, actually I have, but I didn’t get to see how they finished. I heard they were undefeated.
Q: So you didn’t know they lost in the first round of the state playoffs to North Pole?
A: I know exactly how that feels because my junior year, when we were 10-0, we lost to North Pole in the championship. I’ll never forget that. But we got ‘em the next year, so …
Q: Do you think of Alaska much?
A: I do. You know how Alaska is. Everybody says there’s no place like home, but I think Alaska is really a one-of-a-kind, specifically Anchorage. I mean, the community, the people there; basically all my family is there. Coming down my first year, it was a really big transition for me. I’m not ashamed to say that I was super home sick. I ain’t gonna lie. But you really grow up a lot and I feel really comfortable here. I can’t wait to come home, though. I haven’t been there since March.
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