Hardwick having a Ball of a time

Jason Ball officially counts on Monday. Ball came in as an undrafted free agent, took advantage of an injury to Cory Raymer and became the starter. Nick Hardwick played hand-me-down this year. He took the opportunity made possible by Ball's holdout and earned himself the starting job of the San Diego Chargers.

"I'm definitely fortunate I came in at the right time," Hardwick admits. "Things have played out pretty nicely for me. I've worked hard, but things have worked out nicely."

Since training camp, Nick Hardwick has taken the bull by the horns. As a rookie, he has been asked to become the leader of the offensive line. Everything from making checks at the line, to the snap of the ball, falls on his shoulders.

He certainly has the help of his fellow mates, but the onus falls on the Purdue alum.

The line play has been inconsistent and last week in Denver was downright awful. It has been the entire line that deserves the blame. And Jason Ball is back. He eats up a roster spot officially on Monday when his two week exemption expires.

With that said, the pressure on Hardwick may be enhanced. Who can blame him? Hardwick is but a three game starter while Ball has twenty games under his belt.

It is almost comical that Hardwick doesn't see the added pressure. He is in the NFL. The cooker is hopping no matter who is breathing down your back.

Let Ball back in has seemingly been the strategy Hardwick is taking.

"Whatever is going to happen with the position is going to happen," Hardwick smoothly says. "All I can do is go out to practice everyday and just try to get better.

"I have a lot of improving to do; I'm definitely not at the level I'm going to be at or even want to be at. So I have to keep going out and improving and if the coaches decide that Ball should be playing cause he's better for the team—then so be it. So it not anymore stressful than it has been."

Hardwick's football career has been an enigma; one of those things you here about and wonder how it happens. He remains the starting center for the San Diego Charger's, but the road he took to get there was definitely one less traveled.

In high school Hardwick was a standout prep wrestler. In his freshman year he attempted football, but was too small. That isn't the case anymore.

He held serve and guess whose feet has to sweat in those shoes now?

Hardwick continues succeeding via unconventional methods. The universe continues to move for him favorably. Most players play all through high school, a couple years in college, and then sit on the bench if they make it to the pros. Hardwick strayed from that route and has probably told his story a thousand times. That is the past. This is the present – Ball or no Ball – he is going about his business.

"We don't talk too much about the position," he admits candidly of his conversations with Ball, "but we talk, we joke around and he's a good guy—I like him. As far as the position goes—we don't say too much, but we get along well."

On the football field, Hardwick is finding that he has unconsciously raised the level of his play to the speed of the game. If you don't bust your tail, you will be left behind. The first game was a challenge for him, going full tilt against first teamers for an entire game. As with everyone new to the league, the more time on the field, the better he will perform.

Hardwick understands he still has a lot to learn and oddly enough has found some help in an unlikely place.

His wrestling skills have popped up.

"Not intentionally, it just happens," Hardwick said with a shrug. "The wrestling part just takes over when you're in a tight spot, you got to find some leverage and it goes back to the old wrestling days."

Right now, Ball is likely trying to wrestle the starting job away from Hardwick. Given the leverage, it may be a daunting task for the holdout. After calling out the team and saying he did not want to be a part of the team, Ball is back and praising them.

It is Hardwick's job to lose. He has been working hard since the first day of minicamp and it won't change now.

Fortune has been on his side but his work ethic has kept him at the top of the depth chart.

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