The headlines have been stolen by the Ottawa Redblacks’ big additions during the offseason, players like Darvin Adams, Jaelon Acklin, William Powell, and of course, Jeremiah Masoli have fans excited to see a turnaround for the team. Not every addition comes with a flashy headline, and not every addition is expected to play in week one, but sometimes, players come out of the woodwork and make an impact they weren’t expected to make.
That accurately describes Justin Hardy’s situation with the Redblacks ahead of their week one clash with back-to-back Grey Cup champion Winnipeg Blue Bombers. Hardy signed with the Redblacks in March with little fanfare, but that hasn’t stopped him from making an impact. Previously, Hardy spent his college career with the East Carolina Pirates, playing four seasons, including one with former Redblacks quarterback, Dominique Davis. He then moved into the NFL, where he spent five seasons with the Atlanta Falcons, picking up nearly 1,000 yards in that time.
Throughout his career, Hardy has played with some exceptional players. Whether that’s Davis in college, playing under Julio Jones in Atlanta, or catching balls from Matt Ryan, Hardy has had the chance to learn from some of the best. Although that has helped him, this is a new challenge, but not one that he’s shying away from.
“I look at it as football at the end of the day,” Hardy said. “There’s a couple of new rules here and there, but you learn those things and go out there to play football.”
“You have to be a pro. That’s the best way to go about it.”
With Ryan Davis out of the lineup for the foreseeable future, the Redblacks were looking for someone to fill those boots. Hardy, who plays a game similar in style to that of Davis, came in and won the job and is listed as one of the Redblacks’ starting receivers in Winnipeg. He wasn’t just handed that spot, however, he needed to prove himself worthy, something he did time and time again during training camp.
Hardy successfully caught the eye of his coach Paul LaPolice, but he wasn’t the only one taking notice of what the 30-year-old rookie has been doing, both on and off the field. Hardy has also caught the attention of Masoli, and every day, the two have been becoming more comfortable with one another. Masoli sees him as another veteran receiver, even though he’s never played a regular-season CFL game.
“He’s another guy who makes it super easy on any quarterback, he’s very QB friendly,” Masoli said. “Obviously he has a lot of speed. He’s new to the CFL, but the guy is super polished, he’s a professional who takes care of his body every day and does all the little stuff to make sure he’s healthy. He’s just doing a great job absorbing all the coaching.”
Of course, Hardy has seen some great veteran leaders in the past, as mentioned previously, but this Redblacks team is filled with wily CFL veterans that have done just about everything. The receivers have an open door policy among themselves, and they are always willing to work together and share their wisdom. Even as an older player, Hardy has made an effort to go to some of those CFL veterans for advice, and they have always been happy to oblige.
“I ask them questions and pick their brains every day,” Hardy said. “Just being around those guys day in and day out, I’ve been picking up their knowledge of the game, with stuff like how they run certain routes and incorporating stuff like that into my game. It’s been helpful for me.”
“It’s a comfortable place, it’s a safe place to be here with those guys. There are no bad questions or bad answers. It’s just one of those things where I have to approach them. Everybody respects everybody, so they are going to show that.”
Hardy working his way into the starting rotation will likely come as a surprise to many fans, but he credits his consistency during practice as a large reason why. Considering most of the work to climb the depth chart has been done in front of just a handful of fans during practice each day, it’s easy to see why there might be some surprise, but don’t let that fool you, he has left LaPolice no choice but to start him.
“I think it’s just coming in and being consistent,” Hardy said. “Every day, you need to get one percent better. Working on the things that I can do better to help the team win. I just take it like that and let everything flow.”
He isn’t coming to Ottawa or the CFL just to prove people wrong, but it’s natural. In fact, it’s been a part of his mentality since college, where he walked on before earning himself a scholarship.
“I always play with a chip on my shoulder,” Hardy said. “Ever since walking on in college, that has been one of my things no matter where I’m playing at. You gave to go out there and play with that mentality.”
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