Athletic tight end makes switch from basketball to football

Andre Hardy Jr. hopes he can be the latest in a trend of athletic big men to make the transition from college basketball to professional football.

The 6-foot-5, 253-pound power forward from Cal State Fullerton always had both sports on his mind, and he got an initial shot following a private workout he held for about eight teams prior to last April's NFL draft.

The Oakland Raiders signed him and brought him in for rookie camp, but it came with a price.

"I pulled both hamstrings at that (private) workout," Hardy Jr. said. "I pulled the right one in the 40-yard dash, and the left one on the last route of the workout."

Hardy Jr. was in camp for about six weeks with the Raiders.

"I went to the teams with that injury, trying to get healthy," he said. "I got released because I couldn't perform."

Now he's taking the route through the Professional Developmental Football League, and he hopes this is where he'll get noticed. He signed with the Seattle-Tacoma Cobras this April and expects to be in camp by the end of the month.

Originally from San Diego, Hardy Jr. was a wide receiver and a big-time basketball recruit when he went to high school. He led the St. Augustine Saints to a 33-1 record and a state runner-up finish in 2004-05. Then, as a senior, he averaged 19.4 points and garnered all-county, section and all-state Player of the Year awards.

Hardy Jr. signed a National Letter of Intent to play at the University of San Francisco, but he went to New Hampton Prep in New Hampshire after he was ruled academically ineligible. From there, he wound up with an opportunity to play at Oral Roberts University in Tulsa, Okla.

"Basketball was the path for me as far as a scholarship was concerned," he said. "As soon as I didn't get into San Francisco academically, I kind of a panicked, because most schools at that time didn't have a scholarship available. Oral Roberts cleared some space for me in order for me to come."

Hardy Jr. played for the Golden Eagles for two years, and they reached the NCAA men's basketball tournament once. But as his grandmother dealt with an illness, Hardy Jr. chose to return closer to home, and he enrolled at Cal State Fullerton. He had his best season as a junior in 2010-11, when he averaged 10.6 points and 8.5 rebounds in 19 games, 15 of which were starts.

The 26-year-old big man comes from an athletic family. His father, Andre Sr., was a running back who played in the NFL, including two stints with the Seattle Seahawks, and his mother played basketball. He also had an uncle and a cousin who played in the NFL "back in the day," Hardy Jr. said.

The younger Hardy wants to turn his attention to the gridiron, and he thinks his basketball background gives him an advantage in certain areas.

"Body positioning, finding gaps in zones, actually putting a move on your man to get open," he said. "Explosiveness, hip flexors, working on hits, I have to do that on my own."

For now, he's keeping it simple.

"Footwork, getting open, raw athleticism, I think that translates more than anything," Hardy Jr. said. "In football, that's the hardest part of the game."

What doesn't come naturally may come with a learning curve. Hardy Jr. said studying film, learning blocking schemes and protecting the quarterback if he needs to stay in on the line on passing plays will take some work.

But like other NFL-type tight ends who played multiple sports — think Tony Gonzalez at California or Antonio Gates at Kent State — it's all about forcing defenses into bad coverage situations.

"I just think my ability to stretch the field, get downfield and catch the ball is my strength," Hardy Jr. said. "I think I create mismatch problems for defenders and linebackers and safeties."

With such an athletic family, one might think that's all the Hardys talk about. Yet that's not the case.

"It's really something that's not discussed much just because we've always played sports," Hardy Jr. said. "When you get in the house, it's the least thing talked about."

That being said, it was the elder Hardy who suggested his son might be better off playing football.

"Sometimes you should listen to your parents," Hardy Jr. said with a laugh.

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