Jermarcus Hardrick is proving to be a paradox: He plays a position of anonymity, but you’d have to be blind not to notice him.
You have to be a deeply-invested football fan to take notice of the nuances and subtleties of the work the former Husker has been putting in as an entrenched member of the CFL’s Winnipeg Blue Bombers. Yet there is arguably no other offensive lineman in the CFL who catches the local fans’ attention like the one they call Yoshi.
In summing up the contributions of former Huskers in the Canadian Football League, it’s easy to pin stats to the likes of defensive backs and kickers and have something quantifiable to show their performance. It’s much less easy to do so for right tackles who, by nature of their position, are doing their job right if they aren’t getting noticed.
You can pick and choose your stats to fit your point, of course, but the Bombers are now 4-2 in an ultra-competitive West Division and Hardrick has justifiably earned a reputation on the Bombers as the consummate locker-room guy. In so doing, the lovable air he carries with him translates into his demeanour on the field, which fans have latched on to – sometimes literally (more on this later).
When he arrived in Winnipeg for training camp last summer, Hardrick was in his third CFL city in three years and guaranteed absolutely nothing. Brought into the CFL by British Columbia in 2014, Hardrick played 12 games for the Lions before the club released him the following spring. He landed in Saskatchewan that season, where the Roughriders yo-yo’d him on and off the roster, ultimately suiting him up for eight games before releasing him in February 2016.
Winnipeg gave Hardrick a chance, but the CFL’s import/non-import ratio rules that stipulate a team must dress a certain number of Canadians put Hardrick in a tough position. CFL teams often leave skill-position spots for Americans and do their best to fill special teams and offensive line roles with Canadians. That arithmetic put Hardrick in a tough spot.
Last season Hardrick was almost always the first offensive lineman to be down field to pick up a teammate, or the first to help his quarterback up. When running back Andrew Harris scored a touchdown in Edmonton last season, he handed the ball to Hardrick to spike it. He had earned his way on to the roster and Harris, a teammate with Hardrick that first year in B.C., was showing he had earned his way into the team’s good graces, too.
Hardrick got more comfortable as 2016 went along, and became a fan favourite after patenting his #HardrickHop, a take on the Lambeau Leap, after Bomber touchdowns.
Hardrick caught fans off guard the first time, as he hung from the wall in the end zone, but it soon became a ritual for Blue Bomber TDs, and it further established Hardrick as a player fans find easy to love.
After a remarkable come-from-behind win in Week 6 against Montreal two weeks ago, Hardrick emphatically sprinted around Winnipeg’s Investors Group Field with his hands in the air, flashing the kind of carefree spirit that has further added to his stock among the football faithful in Winnipeg.
Hardrick’s story has been told plenty since arriving in Winnipeg. The Mississippi-to-Nebraska-to-Winnipeg route was captured this week by the Blue Bombers’ in-house reporter Ed Tait and in a blue-collar city like Winnipeg, Hardrick’s tale has been one fans have been happy to latch on to.
On to this week’s roundup:
Winnipeg 33, Ottawa 30
For the second straight week, the Blue Bombers needed some miracles to pull out a win.
Trailing 30-23 with 5:37 to play, the Bombers got 10 points off the foot of former Kansas City Chiefs kicker Justin Medlock to win for the third time in the past four games. Medlock kicked field goals of 35, 40 and 38 yards, the latter the game winner with zeroes on the clock, and added a kickoff single (a CFL quirk) for the Blue Bombers.
Behind Hardrick and the offensive line, the Bombers rushed 14 times for 97 yards, while surrendering three sacks. The line also took three illegal block calls and a holding call, though none of them were on the former Husker.
On the Ottawa side, former Husker Jonathan Rose was second on the Redblacks with five tackles, upping his total to 29 in seven games and putting him on pace to better his 55 takedowns in 2016, his rookie year.
Former Husker kicker Brett Maher continued to be spot on for Ottawa, going 2-for-2 on field goals (44 and 37), while also punting six times for a 47.3 average. Maher is now 14 of 17 on the season, but two of those misses came from plus-50 yards, one of them from 58. His 45.8 yards per punt ranks him tops in the CFL.
Calgary 41, Toronto 24
It was a quiet day for former Husker Ciante Evans, who had two tackles as the Stampeders moved to 5-1-1 on the season. Evans now has 20 tackles through seven games.
In Toronto, Josh Mitchell remains on the six-game injured list after hurting his knee in Week 1. Eric Martin, who spent part of last season in Winnipeg, remains on the team’s suspended list following an arrest last month in Arkansas for marijuana possession. Martin is slated to appear in court Tuesday.