There’s no place like home — especially when you have a shiny, new championship ring to show your family and friends.
There was a time when Winnipeg Blue Bombers offensive lineman Jermarcus Hardrick would return to the small Mississippi town of Batesville where he grew up and people would mistake the ‘W’ on his shirt for the University of Washington logo.
Those days are long gone.
Last week, Hardrick, who now lives in Lincoln, Neb., was in Batesville to help his father recover from knee surgery and everybody knew what the Blue and Gold ‘W’ stood for. He can thank last November’s Grey Cup championship victory for that, as there were several watch parties in Batesville — a town with less than 8,000 residents — for the big game.
“Man, it’s the best feeling ever. So many people are still stopping me. The game was almost a year ago and people are still stopping me and saying how the game was on at home and how proud they were and how they want to watch more CFL,” said Hardrick, a former University of Nebraska Cornhusker who signed with the Bombers in 2016.
“I feel like so many more people know about the CFL now and I got so much more attention from the championship and the hometown really supported that.”
Unfortunately for the fine folks of Batesville, and people everywhere for that matter, they didn’t get to scratch their three-down football itch this year as the 2020 CFL season was cancelled owing to COVID-19 complications.
The six-year CFL veteran, who’s known for his trademark ‘Hardrick Hop’ where he leaps into the stands at IG Field after a Bombers touchdown, has found a way to pay the bills without football. He works at a YMCA, where he leads a wide variety sports clinics for youth and referees games. As much as he enjoys his job, Hardrick is eager to get back to Winnipeg, but there are no guarantees that will happen as the CFL has yet to inform anyone how they’ll be able to pull off a 2021 season.
Has it crossed Hardrick’s mind that the CFL might not be able to find a way to make it work?
“I feel like so many more people know about the CFL now and I got so much more attention from the championship and the hometown really supported that.” – Jermarcus Hardrick
“I haven’t even thought about that. You kind of just shook me up a little bit with that question,” Hardrick admits. “I never thought about ball not being played in 2021.”
It would be a tough pill for everyone to swallow, but especially for someone such as Hardrick, considering what the league means to him. Before the CFL came calling, Hardrick spent 2013 in the Arena Football League and when the season ended, he was convinced his football days were over and that it was time to get a regular job.
“When I came back from playing Arena Football, I just had a newborn baby and we brought home less than four or five (thousand dollars) and I couldn’t support my family,” Hardrick recalled.
“I’ll never forget that day when I was walking to a Dollar Tree or something and I had seven or eight dollars and I was trying to get as much food as I could. I was like ‘All right, it’s over.'”
Luckily, a former teammate at Nebraska was able to help him land on his feet and got him a job selling cars before the B.C. Lions reached out to him and brought him up north. The 30-year old Hardrick played a season for the Leos, then joined the Saskatchewan Roughriders for a spell before finding a perfect fit in Winnipeg.
“The CFL is made up of a lot of guys like me. The CFL gave us a chance when we thought football was over.” – Jermarcus Hardrick
The CFL was able to give Hardrick a second shot at his dream, but for the current crop of young talent that couldn’t stick in the NFL, they have no other options for 2020.
“Man, I just feel bad for those guys. The CFL is made up of a lot of guys like me,” said Hardrick, who tried out for five NFL teams after going undrafted out of college.
“When you get to talking in the locker room and guys tell their stories, you’re like ‘All right, maybe my story wasn’t as bad as (others).’ We all come from the same thing. It’s just a different story. The CFL is made up of a lot of guys like me. The CFL gave us a chance when we thought football was over. There are countless guys that have come up to me and have told me they were working at a gas station, they were working at this or driving this when the CFL called them, which is the same thing that happened to me. We just took advantage of it and ran and there’s a lot of luck that goes into it too, man.”
Hardrick is doing what he can to make the most out of his year away from the game. He appreciated having a chance to head back to South Panola High School — where the football team Hardrick played on went 85-0 in his four years there — to do motivational speaking and see how proud everyone in Batesville is of his CFL career. But when you ask Hardrick, who graduated from Nebraska last year with a sociology degree, to speak about last year’s Blue Bombers squad and the special bond they had, it’s obvious where he wishes he was right now.
“I’m used to being in the freezing cold right now. My last football game was almost a year ago and there was confetti falling down,” he said.
“Coming off a year that was so high, I graduated that year, I won a Grey Cup that year, so for this year, to just put a pause on everything, man, it’s crazy. It makes you really take advantage of your situation and relish those moments you get to play football.”
Eighteen years old and still in high school, Taylor got his start with the Free Press on June 1, 2011. Well, sort of.
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