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CHARGERS: Hardwick continues higher education

Discussion in 'American Football' started by Johnny Lightning, May 27, 2009.

  1. Johnny Lightning

    Johnny Lightning Go Bolts

    Feb 7, 2006

    Career-threatening injury sends lineman back to class

    SAN DIEGO ---- Nick Hardwick spent part of his offseason focused on the big picture. The Chargers center signed up for the NFL Business Management and Entrepreneurial Program, a series of courses designed to prepare current players for life outside of football.

    The seminars were taught at some of the finest business schools in the country, and attracted players from almost every NFL franchise. When Hardwick walked into his first class at the University of Pennsylvania, he noticed a common theme among the student body.

    "The funny thing is that most of the guys in there were on the verge of retirement or coming off of a serious injury, so we all had time to think about not being able to play anymore," Hardwick said last week during the Chargers' offseason coaching sessions. "I seriously believe about 90 percent of the guys in there were in that position. Those guys got a slap in the face by reality, who said, 'Hey, man, this gig's not going to last forever, so you might want to start thinking ahead.' "

    Hardwick doesn't seem to fit that profile. He's an established pro with a starting spot on a playoff contender. The 27-year-old is a Pro Bowler in the prime of his career, and although he suffered a foot injury that required surgery in March 2008, he's back to 100 percent and, unlike last season, he's a full participant in the Chargers' offseason program.

    Hardwick's foot problem in 2007 was more serious than anyone thought, and forced him to think about the future.

    "When I first got hurt, they said there was a 50-50 chance that I would play again," Hardwick said. "I had a lot of down time. I was non-weight bearing for three months, so there was a lot of time to think about what was going to happen. I was stressing out actually.

    "It was the worst period of my life, not knowing if I would play again. It was terrible."

    That unwelcome perspective on football mortality came as a surprise to a player who played most of the 2007 season in pain. He injured his foot on Oct. 14, 2007 against Oakland and was out for four games. Hardwick eventually went to a foot specialist and was told he could play without incurring further damage.

    He suffered through the season, fully expecting that the pain and aggravation would dissipate with down time. Only after the season, when rest wasn't curing his ailment, did Hardwick realize he'd need surgery. He had to go under the knife immediately, on the day he was supposed to take his wife, Jamie, on vacation for three weeks.

    It was a disappointment for Hardwick, who doesn't function well while sitting still. His mind had plenty of time to wander into unwelcome territory, and became fixated on the worst-case scenario. That's what got Hardwick thinking about his life after football, and although he played in all but three games in the 2008 season, the injury scare prompted him to further his education this offseason.

    "I was happy I went," Hardwick said. "I met some good guys out there, and learned a decent amount. They didn't get real technical with us, which was a bit of a disappointment. Out of every four classes, three of them were good.

    "There are a lot of options out there, but obviously I want to focus on football right now and be as good as I can at this. But when you have some down time to let your mind escape, it's a good idea to keep pushing yourself and trying to grow as a person."

    Hardwick is focused on making up for lost time. He took his wife on vacation this offseason, and has since poured his efforts into football. His health is back, there's a spring in his step and, most important, confidence has been regained.

    "That's such a big part of it, being able to do the things you want to do and put your body in position it needs to be in to perform," Hardwick said. "Sometimes there's a 6-inch difference about where you put your foot. But if it's painful to put my foot back and bring my knee forward, the performance is off just a slight amount, which can be the difference between success and a slip up.

    "But I'm not limited at all right now, which is great. I'm really enjoying this offseason and can't wait to get the season going."


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