The anchor of the offensive line, Hardwick is part of the heart and soul of the Chargers. There may not be a more popular teammate in the locker room and few people love the game of football as much as he does.
That’s why he can’t wait to suit back up for the Bolts in 2014 for his 11th season under center in San Diego.
“I plan on being back next year and giving them hell again,” he said with his signature smile. “I look forward to having fun with the guys, stirring up the city and doing some damage across the league.”
So how did this whole possible “retirement” rumor get started?
“Honestly, I never even mentioned retirement,” he said. “I just said that this is the time of year I like to reflect on where I’m at, where I want to go and where my family is at. I don’t jump to any conclusions. I just want to have a good solid month to have a true assessment of where I’m at, how I’m playing and how I think I can get better. So, I never mentioned retirement. It surprised me a little bit how people started talking about it. I never expected it to take hold like that. But it’s ok. Like I said, each year I take a good month after the season where I don’t think much about football except to work out and stay in shape.”
If you are ever lucky enough to have a conversation with Hardwick, his love for the game and the passion he possesses for it will undoubtedly shine through.
“I just feel like it’s taught me a lot about life,” he said. “It’s kind of the fast track to life experience because everything happens so fast and it’s so exaggerated. There are so many ups and downs, so you learn a lot about yourself through the process of football. I’m 32 but I feel like I’m going on 65 in terms of knowledge and experience because of all the highs and lows I’ve been through. In football, we see things develop over a week or a season takes 5-to-10 years in a regular work career. So, through all the hard work and the results, and again those highs and lows and learning how to improve yourself as a player and a person, I just love it. It’s unbelievable. That rush to run on the field and have your name called and hear the national anthem play and you get to fight a guy. It’s super fun. “
Bring up the topic of the 2013 season and Hardwick also gets extremely excited. He feels like the season reinvigorated the entire team and city, which is part of the reason he is so excited about 2014.
“The change at first was hard just because change is always hard,” Hardwick explained. “But you grow from that and embrace it and accept it and buy in. I’m telling you, it was fun to watch the team buy in to what the coaches were selling. And it was also fun to have the team really have the turnaround that we did. From just being out of the playoffs for a number of years to battling back into it, and then to win a game and having a chance to continue to advance, it was special. The city really got behind us. The fans were really into us. When I first got here the city was really into us and we had strong support, but then we weren’t as strong and the support wasn’t as strong because they didn’t have faith in us. But now they do again, and that is a special bond.”
A key part of the team’s resurgence last season was the guidance of General Manager Tom Telesco and Head Coach Mike McCoy. All week long, NFL experts have weighed in on the Bolts brain trust, explaining how impressed they were with the duo’s first season. According to Hardwick, those same sentiments exist within the Chargers locker room.
“We definitely like the direction we’re headed in,” he said. “Everybody is on the same page. Upper management, the coaching staff, the players and everyone else in the organization, too. We are all on the same page. It truly feels like everybody is rowing in the same direction. Nobody has an ego here. We are all working together to accomplish the same goals. We just want to win”
Overall, while it is February, Hardwick can’t wait for the season to roll around so he can see Qualcomm rocking like it was late last season.
“All the fans out there, they are going to get an even better team than they got last year,” he said. “The way we finished last season, the team really figured out our strengths and weaknesses. The coaches figured out the players, and the players figured out what the coaches wanted. Now, we have an opportunity to build on that and grow on an accelerated path for this season. We’re fired up about it!”