Hardesty trades helmet for headset

Published 9:44 am Friday, August 22, 2014

Chowan wide receivers coach Montario Hardesty throws the ball to his players. -- Cain Madden | Tidewater News

Chowan wide receivers coach Montario Hardesty throws the ball to his players. — Cain Madden | Tidewater News

MURFREESBORO, N.C.—After his fourth knee surgery in four years and completing his contract for the Cleveland Browns, Montario Hardesty said that it’s time to hang up his cleats. But the New Bern, North Carolina, native said he loves the game too much to leave it for good.

New Chowan University Hawks wide receivers coach Montario Hardesty works with Antjuan Randall at practice this past weekend. -- CAIN MADDEN | TIDEWATER NEWS

New Chowan University Hawks wide receivers coach Montario Hardesty works with Antjuan Randall at practice this past weekend. — CAIN MADDEN | TIDEWATER NEWS

This season, Hardesty will pace the sidelines for the Chowan University Hawks as the wide receivers coach.

“When I went to college, I was planning all along to coach when I was done,” the former University of Tennessee running back said. “I am actually coaching just a little bit earlier than I was planning on — was thinking more about 30 and not 27. But football always throws a curve at you.”

Way back in high school, Hardesty knew that he was going to be a coach one day.

“When I was in high school, all of my coaches and everybody were like, ‘Yeah, you are going to be a coach one day. You are definitely going to be coaching when you are done,’” he said with a laugh.

The 2010 second round pick of the Browns said it’s a lot about his personality and his passion for the game. Hardesty said he also got a lot of help along the way, from coaches going back to Pop Warner football, and he’d like to be there for young men.

“I had great coaches along the way — they kind of pushed me and showed me the right way,” he said. “I want to do the same thing for other people.”

Hardesty had been a captain for three years at Tennessee, and also served in that role in high school. Coaching gives him an opportunity to interact with people on a greater scale.

“Football gives guys a chance to be a part of something that is bigger than them,” he said. “You get a chance to play and have camaraderie with other guys that you wouldn’t otherwise know from different walks of life. You all come together for a common goal. And, coaching the same.”

Football is a big part of his life, and he wants to be around people who have that same passion.

“You get to get something that is bigger than you,” Hardesty said. “I get to help these young guys out and then get to see them go on the field and live out the dreams that they want to do.

“That’s the thing about football to me. Football isn’t just a game, because it teaches a lot of different things.”

Hardesty applied through an NFL Player’s Association program, and they helped connect him to Chowan, as they had also applied to receive a coaching intern. He sent in his resume and references and hoped he’d get one of the few slots available. From there It all happened really fast.

“I got a call the first week of July letting me know that I was coming here,” said Hardesty, who had been in Knoxville rehabbing his knee. “I had to be here the last week of July, so, it was kind of fast.”

Camps are also going by a lot faster than what he’s used to.

“Camp is only about two weeks, and then it’s three weeks before the first game,” he said. “When I was in Knoxville just before I came here, they had already been going for about two weeks.”

Even though he’d been a running back in college and the NFL, he handled a lot of the backfield receiving duties at Tennessee and did play receiver and everything else in high school. So Hardesty said that coaching receivers would not be a stretch for him.

“It’s like second nature,” he said. “I always worked with the receivers in college, and they were all my friends. In the NFL, I trained with Anquan Boldin and Pierre Garcon, and all of those guys. And Chris Carter was there in Boco Raton — he trains all of the receivers for the combine.”

He said it’s different, but Hardesty knows what he’s doing. With running backs you’ve got one, maybe two guys on the field, and for wide receiver you might have three to four guys on the field at the same time.

“You have to know the entire concept of all of the route schemes,” he said. “So, I was here a week early, and I was able to get on that. Now it’s just about teaching my guys.”

Right now, they are getting started up.

“I just told them that football is my passion,” he said. “I told them that I am going to coach you guys with a lot of passion just to get you guys right. Right now, it’s all about teaching and getting better.”

Hardesty said he remembered how it was early on in practice. A lot is coming at you at once.

“Everything is coming at you. It’s hot. You’ve got all of these responsibilities,” he said. “You are trying to impress your teammates and trying to earn trust from your coaches, so I know how it is. I’m just trying to tell them to slow down, relax and play ball. Y’all have been doing this your whole life, playing ball.”

Chowan Head Coach Tim Place said Hardesty has been a good fit.

“You are always a little bit leery of individuals who had a high degree of success,” Place said. “But he is one of us. In no way is he conceited, and in no way does he walk around as if he is more important.

“He has fit in, and I believe he is humbled to have this opportunity, and we are honored to have him here.”

Place said that not only does he consider it fortunate to have Hardesty on staff, but that Offensive Assistant Head Coach Mark Hall has the upmost confidence in him as well.

“You are always hesitant to turn the reigns over to a coach who has never had that experience before,” Place said. “But Coach Hall has the upmost confidence in his abilities and his understanding in what we are doing here. He has been a tremendous addition to our staff.”

As a coach, Hardesty has had some adjustments to make too.

“It has been a little bit to get used to being called Coach Hardesty,” he said. “You know, but it is fun. I like seeing people get better, and we are just now starting, so it is going to be fun.”

And of course, people do want to know about the NFL.

“A lot of guys want to know about what it takes to get to the next level,” Hardesty said. “And I want to answer as many things as I can. I also want to teach them the life lessons that football taught me.

“I am going to get them to their best playing ability if the next level is their dream, but I also want to teach them life lessons that can help deal with certain things. Stuff like character, strength and things like that.”

Dealing with being called Coach Hardesty isn’t the only new thing.

“I have never been on the sidelines before on the other side,” he said. “I’m going to be on the sideline with a headset on now, and doing it the other way. I am excited for the experience.”