Kevin Hardy knew he'd get his chance. He just didn't think he'd find it in the form of a potential touchdown pass from Eli Manning on the first drive of last weekend's preseason game against the Colts.
"Right off the bat it was shocking, honestly," the first-year wide receiver said. "You prepare for anything. In this game you never know when your time is coming, you never know when you're going to be chosen. My time came faster than expected. That first pass that he threw to me, it was kind of a wake-up call to tell me it's time to get things right."
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The problem was that Hardy hit the snooze button. He dropped the pass despite being open for what could have been his first NFL reception of any kind. Certainly his first touchdown.
"I'm working hard to do the little things right," he said. "Looking the ball in has always been a factor for me. I'm working hard on that here and now, especially this week because I know that was a big reason why I did drop the ball. I'm working on the little things so that when my time comes again I'm well-prepared for it."
Hardy will certainly get another opportunity against the Jets. The Giants are dangerously thin at wide receiver going into the game with Victor Cruz, Ramses Barden and Louis Murphy all sidelined by injuries. Jerrel Jernigan will likely get the first nod for slot receiver when the Giants go three wide, but right behind him will be Hardy.
Despite catching just four passes for 53 yards in his senior year at The Citadel and not playing pro football last season after being cut by the Saints in the preseason, Hardy has skyrocketed up the depth chart. Last week Jernigan was hurt as well, which opened the door for Hardy to be on the goal line when that pass from Manning came spinning at him. Earlier in the preseason, Kris Adams was injured. This week, Keith Carlos was waived/injured.
Hardy knows that a good showing in a preseason game could mean a job for the rest of the season. Maybe it'll be on the practice squad. Maybe he'll be the next Victor Cruz.
But first he has to catch a pass in a game.
"I'm praying and hoping for it," he said. "Just letting things come as they come. Every day coming out here working as hard as I can. The game experience is a new experience for me, so it's like I'm being thrown into it. But at the same time I have to take everything as it comes."
That's something that he learned in college. Not in college football, but in college. The Citadel is a military school and Hardy said that lifestyle prepared him for the NFL -- and Commandant Coughlin's Giants in particular -- just as much as his four years of playing for the football team did.
"I have to adjust," he said of life on the bottom half of an NFL roster. "I went to The Citadel, it's a military school, so there are a lot of quick adjustments in that. It's hard in a sense but in the same sense it's something that I'm used to.
"Organization, time preparation, knowing what to do first, having your priorities straight," Hardy said of the lessons that transfer. "Everything about the military is strict. Coach Coughlin, he keeps a strict agenda too, so I'm used to it."
The Citadel wasn't Hardy's first choice when he was a star at Vanguard High School is Ocala, Fla. He wanted to stay in his home state and play for any of the many college programs there. But somebody didn't think that was a good idea.
"My mother had a big part of the decision," he said. "Where we're from, there's not very much there and she knew that my staying in Florida, it would increase my chances of coming home and getting into trouble with all of my old friends or something like that."
Was she right? Would he have?
"I think I might have," Hardy said. "A lot of my friends are doing well for themselves, some of them aren't doing so well. I have a lot of friends to this day that I hang out with that aren't bad guys, but they're just stuck in a situation. I don't think I would have gotten into trouble because I grew up knowing right from wrong. I don't think I would have done the wrong thing if I was still in that situation. But I am glad that I did leave Florida and I had the experience to go out of state and experience something else."
Right now he's experiencing the final days of his months-long tryout for the Giants. He signed a reserve/futures contract with the team in January and by next Saturday he'll either be a member of the team or one of the many who came up short. One of the many who have dropped their one big chance.
Hardy is lucky enough to expect another.
In practice this week, he was running with the first team. On Wednesday, the last official day of training camp, he ended practice with an over-the-shoulder catch from Manning after winning a two-minute drill. That may have earned back whatever confidence he lost from the quarterback in the game against the Colts.
"He's done a good job and he had a big play [Wednesday]," Manning said. "He's playing well and he's made a bunch of strides since the beginning of camp, understands the offense. I think he's doing a good job and hopefully he'll have a big day."