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How Bolts Legend Nick Hardwick Returned to the Chargers

Hardwick feature

If you asked Nick Hardwick about a possible coaching career during his playing days, his answer would have been quick and direct.

"I thought for sure I wouldn't coach," the Chargers assistant offensive line coach said with a laugh.

But as the former Chargers center stepped to the podium wearing a gray team-issued shirt Monday, it was as a Bolts coach and not a player.

Hardwick spent his entire 11-year career in the NFL with the Bolts, starting all of his 146 career games (including the postseason) at center. Hardwick is a member of the franchise's 50th Anniversary All-Time Team.

He spent some time away from the game after retiring in 2015 to be around his family and spend time with his children.

And it wasn't until the past several years that the 2004 third-round pick picked up the coaching bug after his kids got into the sport. Hardwick initially volunteered his time at an Indiana high school where he spent long hours breaking down film.

It was there where Hardwick re-ignited his fondness for the game. After nine years off, he felt like the time had come to try and get back in the NFL.

"I fell in love with the sport again," Hardwick said. "I had enough time [removed from the game] and spent a ton of time with my kids, raising them. They're 12 and 10-years old now.

"I felt comfortable with the place that they were," Hardwick continued. "They probably need to be out from underneath me a little bit. Every year about playoff time, is when it starts to hit you that [football] is my drug of choice. I wanted to be back in. I put my name in the hat."

That call would eventually come for Hardwick by none other than Chargers Head Coach Jim Harbaugh.

While the Harbaugh was filling out his staff, he gave Hardwick a ring.

The former center joked that while he did miss the first call, he accepted the coaching position within a matter of minutes the same night as the opportunity was too good to pass up.

"You only get so many chances to get back into the game," Hardwick said. "You want to talk about an opportunity to work with, not only him, but under [Offensive Line] Coach [Mike] Devlin, [Offensive Coordinator] Coach [Greg] Roman.

"With the direction this organization is heading and being really familiar with the organization," Hardwick added. "For me, it was the chance of a lifetime."

Hardwick didn't interact with Harbaugh as a player but was well aware of what the Head Coach's teams are known for — physicality.

He recalled what it was like when preparing for those teams and can't wait to help Harbaugh do the same in Los Angeles with the Chargers.

"I always remember when we played his teams, the defense said, 'Put on your big boy pants. This is going to be a real game, now.' Their offenses hit heavy and come after you," Hardwick said. "You remember when you play them. I'm happy to be part of that on the other side of things."

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Things have been ramping for the last few months and will continue as the offseason program rolls along.

And Hardwick is filling in to his first NFL coaching role in a similar way he approached it as a player.

"I'm here to learn. I'm here to learn how to coach to be a better coach," Hardwick said. "I'm here to learn how to support the players, the coaching staff, to support [Offensive Line] Coach [Mike] Devlin, and give everybody the best that I can give for what they need."

"It's just learning and watching. I'm really observant," Hardwick later added. "Just watch the coaches and be super intent. Just like you did as a player, every day you try to improve on something that maybe you weren't as good at the day before."

As a former offensive lineman, Hardwick greatly appreciates the way the offensive line has been embraced by Harbaugh's staff and the Bolts front office.

That mantra has the Bolts assistant offensive line coach fired up.

"To have a coach say that offensive linemen are weapons and are valued is pretty awesome," Hardwick said. "We know how important we are. A lot of the players know how important we are, but to have a head coach reiterate that, you do feel special, but you should anyway."

Hardwick later added: "The new facility is coming, bringing in Coach Harbaugh and resources. The commitment level is there. That's exciting when you feel really supported. It's an exciting, exciting opportunity."

Oh, and if the Bolts ever need someone to snap the ball to Justin Herbert, Hardwick has no problem filling in for the time being like he did last week.

"I was getting some snaps in," Hardwick said with a laugh. "Somebody has to snap and it's nice to have the guys be in the drills with the offensive line so they have a shot to learn the techniques that we are trying to teach them. They needed an extra snapper and I'm available."

"It was like riding a bike," Hardwick said about snapping to Herbert. "It was great. You don't get many snaps out in the real world."

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