Valley Catholic's Daniel Hardy drafted by the L.A. Rams
Daniel Hardy always wanted to play college and professional basketball.
The Beaverton native and Valley Catholic alum had his eyes set on March Madness and the NBA for most of his childhood, but after a year on the football field in high school, another at the College of the Siskiyous in California, and three more at Montana State, Hardy will be living his dream on the gridiron — not the hardwood — after being drafted by the Los Angeles Rams in the seventh round of the NFL Draft.
"It's something I've been working towards for a very long time," Hardy said. "When you're a kid, you dream about being a professional athlete, and I was kind of in disbelief. It was just a really special moment."
The 6-foot-3, 240-pound defensive end helped lead the Bobcats to the FCS national championship game this past season, starting all 15 games and tallying 16.5 sacks and 24.5 tackles-for-a-loss. He earned both All-Big Sky and Second Team All-America honors following his last of three seasons in Bozeman.
Hardy is considered by many in NFL circles to be a bit of a project. He is undersized and has relatively little experience in the game. But those same pundits believe he has tremendous upside, and Hardy himself said he's ready to do what's necessary to reach his potential.
"The same thing that got me to this point is what's going to help me be successful in the future … put my head down, be a relentless worker, and accept my role," he said. "I know I'm going back to the bottom of the totem pole, but I'm willing to do whatever it takes to get on the field, make the roster and work my way up from there."
The former Valiant had been both a special teams and backup linebacker for the Bobcats prior to this past season, and with having accomplished relatively little on the field to that point, he admitted feeling as if his professional dreams were bordering on a thing of the past. But when Montana State hired Brent Vigen as its new head coach, and the former Wyoming offensive coordinator brought defensive line coach Shawn Howe with him to the team, Hardy was reinvigorated by the staff's decision to move him from linebacker to defensive end, and by Howe's assessment of the senior upon his first impression.
"He told me that I had all the tools to make it to the next level," Hardy said. "He said I just needed to change a couple of things and dedicate myself to getting better, then we just went to work. It really kind of revitalized my dream."
Hardy spent that spring and summer in the weight room, lifting and eating with a focus on adding weight. He entered the fall at 240 pounds, and according to his coaches, he hadn't lost a step in regards to speed and quickness.
Hard work has never been a scary proposition to the standout defensive end, which is what he said helped make him such a great fit at Montana State.
He said they refer to the team and area as being "blue collar with a gold standard," and he called his time in Bozeman "one of the greatest experiences he's ever had."
But while indebted to the place and program that helped make him who he is today, Hardy is also fueled by his family, and especially by his father.
Hardy, who is one of nine kids, lost his father Wilbert to kidney cancer just before beginning his tenure at Montana State. The loss was difficult for the then-college freshman. To this day, he honors his father by writing "P4WGH," meaning "Play for Wilbert Gail Hardy," on his game towel and etching the same thing into his cleats.
He said he'll take that same mentality with him to Los Angeles when he reports to the team May 13.
Despite having an expected level of nerves as he prepares to head south, Hardy is excited for the opportunity to keep learning about a sport he's fallen in love with over the last five years.
"It's a little nervewracking not knowing exactly what to expect, but I'm always up for a challenge," Hardy said. "I'm excited for the opportunity to learn. Having the ability to be around guys who've been playing the game for so long, and coaches who've been coaching for so long, I feel like there's so much I can learn."
One of those guys is Rams defensive lineman Aaron Donald, who is universally recognized as one of the NFL's best defensive players. Hardy mentioned Donald as someone he was excited to be around and hopefully mentored by, along with Rams receiver and 2021-22 NFL Offensive Player of the Year Cooper Kupp who played his college football at Eastern Washington University, which — like Montana State — is in the FCS' Big Sky Conference.
"Kupp is kind of a legend in the Pacific Northwest, having played at Eastern Washington and in the Big Sky," Hardy said. "People talk about his work ethic and what he had to do to get where he is.
"It's just exciting to know I'm going to be able to be around guys like that. It'll be amazing."
Ultimately, Hardy knows he still has his work cut out for him in order to earn a spot with the Rams and live his NFL dream. But he also knows that he's already defied the odds to get to this point, and that nothing's off the table if you're willing to do your part.
"Anything is possible if you're willing to put the work in," he said. "I always tell people, don't lose faith in your dreams and keep chasing them. This whole world is full of opportunities — you just have to take advantage of them."
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