Kicking it up a notch

While it was making its run to a Region 2 championship during the 2011 season, the Youngsville football team had plenty of effective weapons.

Perhaps one of the most underrated and overlooked was that of then junior kicker T.J. Hardy.

Hardy, now a senior, isn’t being overlooked any longer.

The soon to be high school graduate has signed on to continue his playing career at Edinboro University, beginning this fall. Hardy will join a long list of Warren County talent on the Fighting Scots, including former teammates Sawyer Dininny and Jordan Gurdak and Warren’s Chris McNeal.

For Hardy, kicking is something that has grown on him the longer he has done it.

“I didn’t really kick that much when I was younger,” said Hardy. “I didn’t even play football until my family and I moved to Youngsville the summer before my eighth grade year. But the more I kick, the more it grows on me and the more I realize how much I love it.”

Hardy wasn’t always a football player. In fact, until moving to Youngsville, Hardy was a soccer player. His father – and unofficial kicking coach – Don Hardy said the switch from soccer to football was a natural one for T.J.

“T.J. was one of the roughest soccer players I had coaching soccer,” said Don. “I can’t even tell you how many yellow and red cards he had for rough play. When we moved to Youngsville, we found out the school didn’t have a soccer team and we started thinking about football. Switching to football was a very easy transition for him.”

What carried over from soccer to football above all else for Hardy was his kicking. From day one, Hardy took control of the kicking and punting duties for the junior high team he was a part of.

“In junior high, we had a kicker making all of these extra points and field goals,” said Don. “We didn’t even have that on the varsity team at the time. They were keeping a pretty close eye on him for when he moved to varsity at that point.”

Hardy didn’t just use his natural ability. He worked aggressively on becoming a better kicker. He attended a kicking camp at Penn State as well as the nationally known Kohl’s Kicking Camp in Columbus, Ohio. Hardy was also invited to participate in the National Scholarship Camp in Whitewater, Wisconsin – the same camp attended by current UMass Minutemen punter Colter Johnson, a Warren Area High School graduate.

When he finally took over the kicking duties for the high school football team, Hardy didn’t disappoint.

During his time in the red and white, Hardy established a number of Youngsville football records. Those records include longest punt from scrimmage (62 yards), total extra points made in a single season (40), most extra points in a career (90), most career field goals (12) and most points scored in a career (147).

He was a four-year letterwinner for the Eagles, and was named a Region 2 all-star in all four of his seasons (1st team two years, 2nd team and honorable mention one year each). In 2011 – his best statistical season – Hardy was named to the All-State team at kicker by both the Pennsylvania Football News and Western Pa.net’s Small School Division.

He finished his stellar career with 29 punts for 914 yards, including four punts inside the 20, 90 made extra points on 103 attempts and 12 made field goals on 15 attempts. His career long field goal covered 38 yards.

“T.J. was a tremendous asset to our team,” said former Eagles coach Luke Alex who was Hardy’s head coach for his junior and senior seasons. “It makes life so much easier for a coach when you don’t have to consider going for two every time you score.

“We had T.J. to kick those extra points and he was nearly automatic in putting the kick through. T.J. also took a lot of pressure off our offense because we knew that if we could inside the 20, he would get us three points and if we could get inside the 30, he would at least give us a chance to score. T.J.’s abilities were so vaulable to our football team.”

Hardy didn’t have much trouble locating his fondest memory of kicking at Youngsville. And believe it or not, it wasn’t connecting on the school-record 38-yard kick.

“Kicking wise, I’d say it was probably the Union City game from the season we went 10-0,” said Hardy. “It was a rainy mess and until the final seconds of the game, my field goal was the only score of the game. We got a safety late, but I remember feeling like I played a big role in that win. It’s funny because if I hadn’t made that kick, maybe we wouldn’t have won the game and had the undefeated season that we had. That was special.”

The 6’2, 210-pound Youngsville product is hoping to make even more of those memories during his time playing for the Fighting Scots. Hardy also drew interest from Indiana University of Pennsylvania (IUP) and Alfred University, but ultimately decided Edinboro was the school for him.

“I think it came down to the fact that I felt like Edinboro was the best fit for me,” said Hardy. “Right now, there is only one other kicker on the roster so I should be able to compete for playing time right away. One thing that’s nice about kicking is that it’s not like playing quarterback or running back or anything. Each week in practice is a new competition and if you perform there, you’re going to get the kicks in the game. That kind of competition can only make me and my teammates better.”

Hardy was also intrigued about the chance to play with Dininny and Gurdak once again.

“Oh yeah, that’s going to be nice for sure,” said Hardy. “I’m excited to play with some of my old teammates and have the chance to relive some of those glory days.”

Hardy’s father was also pleased with his son’s decision to play at Boro.

“He’s walking into a great situation,” said Don. “He’s going to be able to jump right into the mix and the coach has already told him that whoever is kicking the best that week is going to see the action during the game. I think the competition is going to allow T.J. to take his game to the next level.”

While Hardy admits that he is somewhat of a work in progress, he also believes that he hasn’t yet come close to his maximum potential.

“There is definitely room for improvement and I’m not really where I want to ultimately be as a kicker,” said Hardy. “I think playing at the college level is going to help me tremendously. Just the level of instruction and the time I can commit to kicking should help me take my game to where I want it to be.”