Little did California offensive line coach Zach Yenser know, 10 years ago, when he was interning for Hardin Construction in Atlanta, Ga., that he would wind up recruiting the founder's son, Sage Hardin, to play offensive line for the Golden Bears.
Yenser was headed into his second year of college, and wanted to study construction management, so he interned for Hardin Construction during June. On Tuesday, almost exactly 10 years later, Sage and his father stepped onto the Cal campus for an unofficial visit.
"I remember when we started the recruiting process, it was about a month or two after they offered me, they asked what my dad did, and I said that he was the founder and owner of Hardin Construction and Edge Capital," Hardin said. "He was like, ‘Wait, Hardin Construction? Like, in Atlanta, Ga.?' I was like, ‘Yep,' and he said, ‘I did an internship for your dad.' It's a really small world."
The staff's Southern pedigree helped the Hardin clan feel more than at home in Berkeley, as they spent all day getting to know the program.
"I thought it was unbelievable," Hardin said. "I know I say that every single trip that I have is unbelievable, and I do thoroughly enjoy every single one, but this one seemed a little bit more special. I don't know exactly for what reason. I just love the offensive coaching staff. Coach [Sonny] Dykes and coach [Tony] Franklin and coach Yenser, they're all phenomenal guys. One of my favorite parts about the trip was that we just hung out in coach Dykes's office, just the three of them and my parents, and we just talked for about an hour, and it was a wonderful trip."
During that talk, Hardin got to go more in-depth with the Bear Raid offense, and see just how he'd fit in, should he decide to make the cross-country move to play for the Bears.
"They're a vertical set team. I really like that," Hardin said. "I feel like I can fit in every single offense, because not only do we run the triple option at Marist, but I feel like one of my strengths is pass blocking, and I feel like I would fit in perfectly. They're in two-point stances a lot, which I like a lot. I like their offense a lot. I think coach Franklin's kind of a mastermind. Although they didn't have the season that they wanted to, I think they're a team on the rise, and they'll be a force to be reckoned with in a couple years, considering the amount of experience that they're returning."
After a long flight from Atlanta, the Hardin family had lunch with the staff, before taking the full tour of the campus.
"The campus is just beautiful," Hardin said. "Each building is a different piece of architecture, made out of different kinds of material. It's all very unique -- from the Campanile being in the center of the campus, you look down and you can see the Golden Gate Bridge, it's just a breathtaking view. Then, I went and toured the football facilities, and we watched the highlight films and some tape and what-not. Then, we hung out in coach Dykes's office and talked about California and our families, philosophies and all sorts of things. We wrapped up the day by watching the California players do speed and conditioning."
The thing about the visit that struck Hardin the most was the atmosphere of the program, beyond just the football aspect.
"They're very relatable and very friendly, so they've got that Southern hospitality side to them, and they get the Southern humor and stuff like that," Hardin said. "They're just very friendly and welcoming guys. It was a very family-oriented place. When we walked into the football facility, all the coaches' kids were running around and playing and watching cartoons on the big screens across the football facilities. It was really cute, and you could tell that it was a very warm and friendly area."
The trip out West wasn't just to see Cal, though. On Wednesday, Hardin and his parents paid a visit to the Bears' archrival, Stanford. He'll camp with the Cardinal over the next two days.
"Both schools were just absolutely beautiful, and they're different, in terms of their landscape and the way that they present their architecture and what-not, but they're two of the most well-respected schools, with Stanford just being Stanford – that says enough in itself – and Cal being the No. 1 public institution in the United States," Hardin said. "Those are two schools that are very high up the food chain, and they're great institutions. I loved both trips. They're very different, but they're only separated by a 40 minute drive."
The one plus that remained constant across both visits? The California weather.
"Oh, my God, the weather has been unbeatable," Hardin gushed. "It's 90 degrees and 80 percent humidity with bugs flying around everywhere in Atlanta, and I woke up this morning and I was wearing a sweater in June. I thought that was pretty remarkable, and I loved it."
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