At 6 feet 7 inches tall, Indiana's James Hardy is going to provide some lucky NFL quarterback with a big target if he declares for the 2008 NFL Draft. Scout.com's Chris Steuber talked to the Hoosiers' star receiver about his skills and his future in this exclusive interview.
How would you like to have a 6-foot-7, 220-pound receiver that runs a 4.4 forty and catches everything that comes his way? Intrigued?
Look no further than Indianaís star WR James Hardy.
Over the last three seasons, Hardy has produced great numbers: 186 receptions for 2,690 yards and 36 touchdowns. A redshirt junior, he led the Hoosiers to the Insight Bowl where they will play Oklahoma State. Heís one of nationís most dominant players and is a likely first-day selection if he decides to enter the 2008 draft.
A former basketball standout turned football star, Hardyís emergence and rise has many wondering if heíll forgo his senior season and enter the NFL Draft. He has until January 15th to decide, and before that decision is made, Scout.comís Chris Steuber caught up with him and introduces you to Indianaís physical enigma.
Chris Steuber: Youíve been a consistent receiver throughout your career at Indiana. What has been the key to your success?
James Hardy: Just staying hungry; preparing each week as if it is going to be my last week. I try to pick apart the defenders that are going to guard me each week, and Iím going to do whatever I can to lead this team to a victory. I felt that this was the year that I had to step up mentally, study more film, work out harder, as well as concentrate on other aspects of the game. I took it as a challenge, and I love challenging myself each and everyday. I just try to go out there and produce, and hopefully we can win games.
CS: You know better than anyone what youíre capable of achieving. Your size is so intimidating, but what do you feel is your best attribute as a player?
Hardy: Iíd definitely say my hands. This has been my first year, even though Iíve been playing football here for two years, just focusing on football. My mindset for when I arrived here was that I was going to play basketball and football, and then concentrate on whichever one I had the opportunity to advance in. This has been my first year to just focus on football, and my route running got a lot better, but I still have so much more to learn. Even though Iím not a great route runner, I can get by with my hands.
CS: You were recruited as a basketball player, correct?
CS: What went into your decision to concentrate on football rather than basketball?
Hardy: I just put it into the perspective in regards to the next level. I had over 120 basketball scholarships, and I thought to try the football thing too, and I played my junior and senior year in high school. Indiana gave me a scholarship the last week possible. I ended up signing a football scholarship with Indiana, because that was the only way possible for me to play both. Coach (Mike) Davis (former Hoosiers head basketball coach) and I had an agreement that if I didnít like football my first year that Iíd just get taken off and receive a basketball scholarship. I felt like I was in a win-win situation at the time; it was like I couldnít lose. How many guys are 6-7 in the NBA, compared to how many guys are 6-7 in the NFL? I just thought that I could separate myself from the rest of the players that enter the NFL. When I decided to come to Indiana, Coach Davis was the reason I came here, and I felt like he turned his back on me (when he left). Coach Hepp (Terry Hoeppner) came in here with a passing offense and talked to me about Ben Roethlisberger (who he coached at Miami of Ohio) and what he had planned for this program. He had plans for me to help this program get back to where we needed to be. It was just the loyalty Coach Hepp showed to me by sitting me down and telling me, ďJames, I donít think there are five people in the world that can make the catches youíre able to.Ē It came down to me deciding which one was more realistic to take to the next level, and it turned out to be football because of Coach Hepp.
CS: You mentioned improving your route running. What specifically do you have to improve?
Hardy: Itís just about angles. I feel that Iím so young as a football player. When youíre playing the game and watching the game, itís two different ways for you to look at it. With me being so young and really coming to college to play basketball, the football thing is still sort of new to me. Itís really exciting for me to see how people respond when Iím really just beginning in this game. Iím just trying to come in each day and get better, and thatís what motivates me. Iím in here trying to run my routes, and even if I did something well, Iím always trying to break myself down and see what Iím doing wrong to make myself better.
CS: I think youíre improving and you have gotten a lot better all around, but the one criticism I have about your game is that you catch a majority of your passes on the outside. I donít see you going across the middle making the tough catches. Do you think that has something to do with your own acknowledgement about improving your route running?
Hardy: I just do what the coaches tell me to do. They feel that playing me on the outside is a position that they can utilize me better at. During my first year playing, I felt like I was a guy who was just using his ability. If you threw the ball up, Iíd go and get it. I canít grow in every aspect and make everyone happy in one year. This is a learning process for me. Iím getting better each and everyday. Most of the guys you see on TV have been playing for years and have focused on football for that long as well. Myself, I was a basketball player turned football player, and itís kind of hard for me to take criticism, but Iím still learning, and I try not to let it get to me. When the time comes, Iíll show the doubters what I can do, and Iím going to become the best football player that I can be.
CS: A player like Antonio Gates ó a guy who never played college football, but is now an All Pro tight end and mentioned among the elite in the NFL ó made the transition from basketball to football. What is it about basketball players that make them an ideal fit for the gridiron?
Hardy: I think we have the ability to box out the defenders. With my size and ability, I feel I know how to maneuver my body so defenders whoíre guarding me canít get the ball. If I donít get it, nobody can get it. I honestly canít answer that question for other players, but Iím glad God chose me as one of them.
CS: The best game you played this season came against one of the top cornerbacks in college football, Penn Stateís Justin King. You had 14 receptions for 142 yards and two touchdowns. Did you realize the game you were having against one of the elite defenders in the country?
Hardy: Iím going to be honest with you; I didnít know anything about Justin King before the game. I just went into the game like it was any other game. It was just a game where I had a one-on-one matchup, and my eyes just lit up. I never really see one-on-one coverage, but I guess they had enough confidence in him to match up on me one-on-one. I just looked at it and said, ďitís show timeÖĒ (laughs). It was my opportunity to shine, and it happened that day.
CS: Your potential is scary, and being 6 foot 7 you have a lot more room to grow. Do you ever think about how much stronger and more dominant you can become?
Hardy: Definitely, I know I have great upside. Iím sort of a baby at the receiver position, and the expectations people have for me is sort of irrelevant because I have expectations of my own. I just want to get better and help my team win, and Iíll let God handle the rest.
CS: Iím sure you get asked this question a lot, and being one of the top receivers in the country itís probably entered your mind. Have you given any thought about entering the 2008 NFL Draft?
Hardy: When youíre a kid you dream about taking your game to the next level, and honestly, I can say that I have thought about it lately. But for the most part it hasnít been that much. Iíve just been concentrating on getting better and getting this team to a bowl game. And now that weíve done that, Iím just trying to help us win that bowl game. When the time comes to actually make that decision, Iíll make it.