Anchoring the line

It has been a quiet offseason for Nick Hardwick. He could have found himself embroiled in a healthy debate over who would start the season under center had Jason Ball shown up at training camp. But with the San Diego Chargers season about to begin, Hardwick is entrenched at the starter and anchor of the line.

Perhaps it is fitting that Nick Hardwick is the anchor. He is former wrestler and used to putting people in the anchor lock or death grip or whatever the choice of words for the variety of moves he showed on the mat.

That was a long time ago. Since being a walk on to Purdue, Hardwick has stood tall to every challenge and met it with gusto.

Walked on to the football team and lined up on the defensive side of the ball. Coach asked him to move across the line and oh yea, here is the playbook you are starting this week. Hardwick has had to continually elevate his game. When he steps on that field in Houston, excuse him if he is without fear. He has been trouncing the odds for a lifetime it seems.

The desire to wrestle, however, waned after high school. Hardwick was seeking other athletic endeavors, and even then had to wait to make sure his body was in peak condition.

"It is a tiring sport," Hardwick said of wrestling. "You get burned out on it quickly and I was pretty worn out really. I waited two years in college before I walked on to the football team."

Now, Hardwick can look back on his wrestling and realizes some traits that have helped him in this phase of his life.

"As far as wrestling goes it has helped me with leverage and body balance and positioning," Hardwick said. "Other than that, the only thing it has given me is work ethic because I think wrestlers are hands down the hardest working group of guys."

Hardwick attacked the playbook this offseason, looking to seize an opportunity with Jason Ball holding out.

It didn't take long for his mentor to notice his game. Offensive line coach Hudson Houck has always had a way in finding the gems and he was instrumental in bringing Hardwick aboard.

And when Coach Houck talks, Hardwick listens.

"He has been a real successful coach. He was a center himself at USC. He coached Tony Munoz, Mark Stepnoski and a bunch of All Pros. I am always excited to work with him."

Houck has already taught Hardwick new tricks and his stressing of the fundamentals has allowed the Chargers newest center to work on blocking rather than the snap to the quarterback.

Something new occurs this week. The rookie center will actually get a chance to block for LaDainian Tomlinson in live game action.

Does Hardwick believe he needs to learn the subtle nuances of LT considering they have only taken two offensive snaps where Tomlinson rushed in the preseason?

"I think he is going to get the job done regardless," Hardwick said. "Obviously I want to do what I can to help him and I think I can. He is a pretty unbelievable running back. I don't think I have to worry about – he will do whatever it takes. He is going to get the job done regardless of his line."

Too bad you can't see him run yourself since you will be tied up with your blocking assignment.

"I get to see the plays after they are done on the JumboTron," Hardwick replies with a wink and a smile.

A quick learner that guy. It is easy to see why the Chargers fell in love with him and his work ethic. It is tough to remember he is just a rookie.

This Sunday he will become so much more – a veteran of an NFL game.

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