Hardrick: ‘I was just happy I had a deal on the table’

He is both a protector and a provider. Indeed, if Jermarcus Hardrick was to design his own business card, that might be the job title he’d highlight right below his name. Let’s also reinforce that the Winnipeg Blue Bombers right tackle – who officially signed a one-year contract extension with the club last Wednesday – is also something of a survivor.

He grew up in Courtland, Mississippi not really knowing his birth father, while his mother worked tirelessly to provide.

And the next chapters in his life – from community college to the University of Nebraska, from bouncing around pro football before ultimately finding a home with the Bombers – all helped transform him into the player he is today, the man he is today.

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They also served as his foundation as he worked through the global pandemic that shut down the Canadian Football League in 2020. And all of this might explain, in part, why there was so much joy in his voice – there almost always is – as he spoke to the media about his contract extension.

“When my agent called me I was just happy I had a deal on the table,” began Hardrick from his off-season home in Lincoln, Neb. “Once I saw we had a deal and after talking to my wife it wasn’t really about the number (salary), it was about the opportunity to still be a Bomber and still be in Winnipeg. But, definitely 2020 opened my eyes and made me appreciate the opportunity I have.”

Hardrick did everything he could to help make ends meet in ’20, from working for UPS, to loading and unloading trucks for a meat-packing plant, to taking the odd construction job. He umpired kids baseball games and for a short stint even delivered newspapers.

“It’s just wherever I could get money… I just wanted to keep the family happy and keep all the bills (paid),” he said. “I was trying to take care of my family.

“You had to worry, I’m not going to lie. I worried about if things were ever going to get better, if it would get normal again to come across the border. I always worked out. I’m glad I have stuff at home to keep me active. I always wanted to play and if it was going to work out it was going to work out in Winnipeg. There was no debating anything.”

Now 30, Hardrick will be entering his seventh CFL season in 2021 – and fifth with the Bombers after stints with BC and Saskatchewan in 2014 and 2015. He has missed just five games in four years with the Bombers and was an integral part of a line that helped Andrew Harris capture three consecutive rushing titles.

“You become a better pro the day you walk in through the Bombers doors,” said Hardrick. “Just being around Mike O’Shea, Al (Couture), Darren (Cameron)… so many people to name from (Brad) Fotty to (Jared) Cronk to the coaches. It’s the way they approach everything. Everything matters. Everyone wakes up trying to win this day. It’s just a family thing. It’s the relationships you build.

“You don’t want to let your family member down. I don’t want to let Adam Bighill’s kids down. My kids go to other kids’ birthday parties. It’s a family thing. I don’t want to let my brothers down.”

A popular teammate who has endeared himself to the Bombers fan base with his enthusiasm – perhaps best represented by his ‘Hardrick Hop’ into the stands at IG Field after a touchdown – he has long admitted to being driven to succeed by fear.

That motivation was initially fuelled by his own desire to succeed in the game and then further fanned as he got married and started a family. Again… protector/provider and survivor.

“It’s the fear, definitely. You can ask my wife, you can ask anybody I talk to,” said Hardrick. “My one goal every year is to make the team. That’s my only goal and then I go team goals after that.

“I would never change from walking on eggshells from walking in there – especially from having guys on the other side like Stanley Bryant. He has the film, he has the (CFL Most Outstanding Offensive Lineman) awards, he has everything. I’m not the best tackle in there. I’m trying my best to be and I love that I get the chance to play with Stan. That will never change.

“I’ve been cut so many times… I have three kids, I have my wife so whatever I bring in supports five people so it means a lot more to me.”

Hardrick is the first of the Bombers’ long list of pending free agents to re-sign with the club. His announcement shrinks the list to 34, which still includes all-star Stanley Bryant, along with Paddy Neufeld, Geoff Gray and Cody Speller – all of whom started games along the O-line in 2019.

How many of those players return for a shot at defending their ’19 championship will be one of the ongoing Bombers storylines during the longest offseason in CFL history.

“All the guys are happy about the Cup, but we’ve kind of moved on from it,” Hardrick said “We wanted the chance to run it back in 2020. But with the fresh start in 2021 we’re just going to go back to the basics and start building this thing from the ground up. That’s our approach right now.

“It’s been a little over a year since we played ball and 2019 won’t really matter now. But the guys that want to come back and the guys that have been talking about it, we know what we’re going to come back for.”

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