Chance on defense propelled Hardy
Growing up in Southern Ohio, Darryl Hardy always knew he could play football at a high level. But a great career at Tennessee and lengthy stay professionally on the defensive side almost never happened.
"I was the center my 8th, 9th and 10th grade years. I was frustrated and I quit my 10th grade year because I knew I wasn't big enough and I walked out. The coach told me if I didn't come back I'd never play again so I went home and thought about it and I was bored so I came back because I loved to play the game. They had me playing tackle and I was actually All-state at Guard weighing 185 pounds."
During his senior season, in his final game, Hardy got the chance to play defense. He not only took full advantage of the situation, but it helped propel his young career.
"We were playing Moeller and our outside linebacker broke his ankle first game of the year and I was always trying to get the coaches to let me play defense. So they gave me a shot at linebacker in the last game of the season and I had 4.5 sacks so I was really happy I proved I could play defense."
Tennessee saw the potential in Hardy and he picked Knoxville for a couple of different reasons.
"One reason I went to Tennessee was because Bruce James," Hardy said. "He was Cincinnati and he went to Tennessee and it made me feel comfortable. Ron Zook was recruiting me and Tennessee was on me. Ohio State and Alabama among others really came after me late. Tennessee would leave notes on my car. They made me feel wanted from the beginning to the end."
Then head coach Johnny Majors helped finalize the deal with an in-home visit that made both Hardy and his mom feel excited and at ease.
"Coach Majors came to my house to meet my mom," Hardy said. "He was wearing his SEC rings and he was straight to the point. I knew where I wanted to be and what I wanted. I really liked Tennessee and when I got there everyone got rewarded with the bowl games."
Hardy arrived and his freshman season was tough to endure for a group that had never been accustomed to losing. The Vols started 0-6 before rallying to win their final five games.
"In 88', I was looking around like come on guys, I've never lost this much," Hardy said. "We stayed together and we were really a family. You can look on my Facebook and I'm friends with all those guys in the 1987 recruiting class. We were used to being the studs and we knew we were better than this. We had no choice but to get better. That next year we went on to win the SEC."
Hardy thrived in a Tennessee program that was really starting to take off under Majors and the competitive environment helped mold the Ohio native.
"It was competitive and we competeted hard," Hardy said. "It was fun to go out there and have to defend Alvin (Harper) and Carl (Pickens) and Tony (Thompson). We got after it because if you didn't then you wouldn't be playing. It was a different time then. I think it made us all better. We were in better shape and it made our drive that much more intense. You have to put in the work to get to where you want to be."
Hardy loved the college experience and campus life was always happy to be around other classmates that were just the normal college students.
"Me, Earnest (Fields) and other guys pledged to a fraternity," Hardy said. "We did more than just football. We were living on campus with the regular students because Gibbs didn't exist back then. It gave us a real feeling with the other students and it made the entire campus close."
Hardy played in both the NFL and CFL. He spent his early in the League with the Dallas Cowboys before making the Arizona Cardinals in 1995. Unfortunately, he was cut after the sixth week and was picked back up by the Cowboys who went on to win the Super Bowl.
Hardy lives in Texas now and is enjoying the chance to coach his son's football team.
"They are undefeated and I coach the defense," Hardy said. "He asks me if I were as good as he is and it makes me smile. It's so much fun to watch him grow up. I tell people that I love football, but I love pee-wee ball because that's where you learn to love the game and learn the early instincts."
And when he's not playing the role of family man, Hardy keeps up with his former teammates and his beloved Vols.
"Before there was a Vol for Life, we were already like that," Hardy said. "Everyone is spread out, but we all stay in touch. TK (Todd Kelly Sr.) would always send me clips of his son playing in high school and now I see him out there playing at Tennessee. It's just something we've always done to stay in touch."