Par three for Nick Hardwick

While most of potential 2004 NFL Draft picks were setting up camp at their house and waiting for their names to be called, Nick Hardwick was setting up tee times. Not until Mother Nature blocked him from the fairways was he relegated to his house. After two rounds of watching, the San Diego Chargers found him at home to tell him the news, he was about to be selected in round three of the 2004 draft.

"I was just sitting around the house and I was planning on doing a little golfing but it was pretty nasty in Indiana, so I ended up watching the whole thing," Hardwick said. "A.J. Smith gave me a call and said, ‘Congratulations, you are going to be a Charger.' I was pretty excited."

Getting drafted in round three was the storybook ending of a career that really only began three years ago for Nick Hardwick. He was a walk-on to the Purdue team that was slated to play defensive line.

While most members of the media point to the fact that Igor Olshansky has only played football for six years, Hardwick has truly only played for two. Before joining the Purdue team, he had not played since his freshman year in high school. Not exactly a plethora of experience at a high level.

After being taken in as a walk-on to Purdue, he did not play the 2001 season.

It was just as he envisioned, that is, until he moved to the offensive side of the ball and his career took off. Hardwick never imagined it would turn out like this.

"No, not going into it," Hardwick readily admitted. "I really just wanted to sit on the sidelines and it turned out that here I am getting a chance to play in the NFL."

From the sidelines, Hardwick was moved to a starting role along the offensive line. It was something he had not planned for at all. His playbook on offense was unread.

Twenty three games played later, Hardwick had 20 starts under his belt and a career was born.

Obviously a quick learner, Hardwick played both guard and center, but coming in as a defensive linemen had its advantages as well. He knew that playbook but never saw a snap on that side of the field.

"I can read defensive guys a little better than most offensive linemen because I know what they are taught," says Hardwick. "Maybe it has made me a little more aggressive than I would have been."

Reading defensive guys is one thing, but being thrown into the fire and understanding your own positioning is vastly different.

There are so many little nuances that go into the game as a lineman. You have to know your assignments – something Hardwick barely knew when he was first given the gig. You have to understand your own positioning on the play and where help will be – Hardwick was helped on the positioning by his wrestling background but help…that was a luxury.

Hardwick is still learning the game today. There is no question he is among the brightest to grasp the position and it truly is a feat that defies explanation. But when did Hardwick really grasp the position.

It was not an overnight thing, despite what his personality and work ethic say.

"Probably not until the spring before my senior year," Hardwick said honestly. "Well actually, before my Bowl game senior year. I was playing guard and I was just winging it really. They moved me from D-tackle to guard.

"I didn't know what was going on. I was starting within three days, so I had no idea what was really going on. I was forced to learn it real quick. They put me in at center and you have to know what is going on to play center. I had to learn it in two weeks and that was pretty much when I got the hang of it."

Now Hardwick is in camp at Murphy Canyon and learning a new system. He has much longer than three days now and, with Jason Ball out due to a contract squabble, has an opportunity to grasp a starting job.

Right now he has three days off a week before training camp, plenty of time to play golf.

"My golf game…my golf game is pretty weak," Hardwick says with a laugh. "I don't even know if I can hang out there. I might have to find a par three or something."

Par three. He is going on his third year as an offensive linemen. Three years from now we may be looking at a professional golfer. That is simply par for the course.

Denis Savage can be reached at safage@cox.net

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