‘I missed Winnipeg:’ Bombers OL Hardrick returns to second home early to get ready for CFL season

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Jermarcus Hardrick missed Winnipeg and his teammates so much that he decided to come early and do a longer quarantine just to be around the city and IG Field as much as possible.

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The veteran offensive lineman, who lives in Lincoln, Neb., brought his family north in mid-June and completed a 14-day quarantine, which allows him to work out with some of his local teammates at the stadium while most other American players are just arriving and starting a mandatory seven-day isolation period.

“I missed Winnipeg, the kids missed Winnipeg,” Hardrick, 31, said during a Zoom availability from IG Field on Friday. “I just missed being a Bomber. I’m just excited to be back, man.”

Hardrick — who is the only U.S. resident among players to have completed a quarantine already — and other players and team personnel who are at the stadium now have already started going through COVID-19 testing every second day and they are learning to go about their business while adhering to league-mandated health protocols.

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“Whatever we’ve got to do, it don’t matter what it is, if I’ve got to check A, B, C and D, that’s what I’m gonna check,” Hardrick said.

“Basically we just have to show up and do what they say. We have to wear masks, we have to get tested and we have a couple other things we have to do. No matter what they say, we’re gonna do it in order to play the game. The guys are all on board. We’ve got a veteran team and that’s not one of that is gonna hold us back. We’re not worried about protocols at all, any checklists or anything like that. They can have my fingers if they want ’em … I’m just ready to play ball.”

The Bombers will open training camp on July 10, with sessons taking place on the University of Manitoba practice field. IG Field is in use by the Canadian Premier League of soccer until the end of the month.

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When the Bombers finally do assemble, it will be almost 20 months since they last played together, in the 2019 Grey Cup game.

But many familiar faces will be back and that’s especially true on the offensive line, where the entire starting five is returning and will likely be a great strength of the team as it tries to defend its championship.

“It’s important that we’re a veteran group because know each other, we know how we’ve each got to tick, we know the scheme and we love each other, so that part will be easy,” Hardrick said.

“The hard part will just be the 14, 15, 16 months we’ve been away and knocking the rust off and getting back to work.

“We’ve been shooting film to each other, sharing each other’s workouts. Me, Paddy (Neufeld) and (Stanley Bryant) will go on FaceTime and watch each other run and time each other. We’ve all been holding each other accountable and it’s just important to have some leaders in there who’ve done this before. With a short season and no pre-season games, it won’t be easy, but it will be a lot easier for us to come in and play.”

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Bryant, Hardrick and Neufeld are joined by returning vets Drew Desjarlais and Michael Couture as projected starters on the offensive line. The only player who is not returning is Cody Speller, who was the starting centre in the 2019 playoffs and Grey Cup, with Couture injured. He was traded to Toronto.

Even two Canadian backups — Winnipegger Geoff Gray and Eli Asotui — are returning, so the Bombers should have talent, depth and plenty of experience.

“I’m expecting great things,” Hardrick said. “We’re gonna come to work, we’re gonna win every day. It’s just coming to work, being happy to be at work, working with the guys, just being able to do what we love, being able to do what we dream of as kids. I’ve been missing it for a year and a half and I’m just so happy to be back.”

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Though the offensive line is laden with experience — Bryant is 35, Neufeld is 32 and Hardrick is 31 — the group will be working with a new offensive co-ordinator in 2021. Paul LaPolice left the Bombers to become head coach of the Ottawa Redblacks and former Bombers quarterback Buck Pierce is now the offensive co-ordinator in Winnipeg.

“I’m expecting not a lot of things different,” Hardrick said. “i’m not worried about playing under a new coach. And it’s Buck. Buck’s my uncle. I’ve been here six years now and I’m excited to play with him (as co-ordinator). Whatever he throws out, I’m excited to execute that.”

To be honest, it sounds like Hardrick would play on hot coals if he had to. Though born and raised in Mississippi he’s come to love Canada, Winnipeg, the Bombers organization and the CFL with a passion.

“I want to play right tackle for the Winnipeg Blue Bombers until I lay down,” he said.

“Having the game taken away from me, coming off a Grey Cup, I’ve just been itching to get back out there and it’s even more now.

“Let’s go.”

Twyman@postmedia.com

Twitter.com/Ted_Wyman

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