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Jaguars, Illini Legend Kevin Hardy on NFL Draft Past and Present
20th April, 16:46NFL Draft week is here, and with it, we conversed with a man who knows it well- Kevin Hardy. The man who was rated the #15 best Jacksonville Jaguars player of all time by the club website, discussed the NFL Draft- how it's grown, what his experience was like, and what the event will be like this week, as the current pandemic has forced it into a very different format.
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"Now the draft has such fanfare, I had an opportunity to announce the Jags second round pick in Nashville (last year), and walking on the stage, it was almost like I was re-living the moment I was in New York, but times eight because I couldn't believe how many fans were out there, and they really made this thing into a huge spectacle," Hardy said while on media teleconference.
"For guys who are looking to get drafted this year, unfortunately they will miss out on that opportunity, but obviously the big prize is just getting drafted."
"While they'll miss out on the opportunity to walk across the stage, I'm sure they'll still feel proud and honored and reap the beenfits of being drafted, and the experience of playing in the NFL."
Hardy, who was recently named to the Illini Athletics Hall of Fame, was a first team All-American and Butkus Award (named for Illini great Dick Butkus, perhaps the greatest LB in college football history) recipient in 1995. He joined with Dana Howard (who won the Butkus award the previous season), Simeon Rice and John Holecek to form what many consider the greatest linebacker position group in college football history in 1994.
Hardy was selected by the Jaguars with the second overall pick in the 1996 NFL Draft, one spot ahead of Rice. (Go here for our 2020 and 2021 NFL mock drafts)
And in their final collegiate play, Hardy and Rice met up for a sack of Wisconsin's back-up quarterback (Darrell Bevell had already been knocked out) in an extremely dull 3-3 tie.
It was also the last stalemate in college football history, as the sport adopted overtime rules the very next season.
Hardy knew he would be a top five pick in the draft as the New York Giants told him they would select him at #5. Jacksonville surprised him as they never offered him a visit.
Illinois has never seen anything like that on NFL Draft day, before or since with Hardy going #2 and Rice going #3. Jeff George, in 1990, is only player in school history ever to go #1 overall.
Rice could have left a year early, and been selected very high in the draft, but he chose to stay and try to accomplish something special in Champaign together.
"He (Rice) wasn't sure what he was going to do, and finally asked me what I was going to do," Hardy told the media by phone.
"When I told him my plans, he said he was coming back instead of turning pro.
"He probably would have been selected number one overall his junior year, but he said that he would be selected that high after his senior year and wanted to do something special with me."
Despite having the #2 and #3 picks in the draft, the Illini finished only 5-5-1.
Kicker Bret Schuplein, the only offensive weapon in that tie at Wisconsin, hit a 51-yard field goal, but saw a 54 yard attempt, which would have won the game and clinched bowl eligibility fall just a yard to yard and a half short.
Original plans for the draft called for the picks to be shuttled to the stage, set up in the Bellagio Hotel fountains, via boat. Not all events cancelled by the pandemic are for the worse. It took out some things that we really didn't need to do as well.
Hardy retired from the NFL in 2004 and went on to own a couple of night clubs in Miami Beach. After doing that for a few years, Hardy finally retired from work in general in 2017 and is now living a sweet leisurely life in Jacksonville.
"I was lucky enough to surround myself with some good people, and they really knew what they were doing, and we were able to get a very solid ten year run in," Hardy said of his night club experience.
"The cool thing was I always catching up with guys I used to play with or the current guys, a lot of people comine in and out of Miami, so it was a lot of fun, but at the same time it's a difficult business too."
"There's a lot of demand on time, and it's a lot more work than people might expect, but it was a great experience and there's days that I miss it and there's day that I don't."
Today, Hardy is raising two teenage sons and working as an assistant coach at a high school in Jacksonville where one of his boys plays football. Retirement is being great to him, as he's getting a lot of golfing and boating in.
"Now, I live in a community in Jacksonville on a golf course that has boating capabilities, so I'm enjoying the full effects of retirement life these days," Hardy said.