Hardy overcomes injury to post brilliant season for Dragons

Tailback has been practically unstoppable during TU’s playoff push

A-T FILE PHOTO BY PAT GAIETTO Tiffin University tailback JaQuan Hardy gets a block from teammate Stanley Jackson during a carry Saturday in Findlay.

The biggest smile came over JaQuan Hardy’s face.

Hardy was talking about the third game of the season in which he erupted for 172 yards and three touchdowns on 15 carries at Wash.

“That game was really exciting,”Hardy said. “I came in there hungry and just trying to do something. I knew going in I could do something like make a play, but at the end of the day, I felt like I needed to show out and have fun.”

But, first-year Tiffin coach Cris Reisert said it was one specific play that he remembers.

“It was the first play of the second drive,” Reisert said. “We were able to get JaQuan in a situation where he was one-on-one with a corner. Our line blocked it up and he made that guy miss. He made another guy miss and he took it to the house for a 93-yard touchdown. At that point, we knew we had something special.”

The 93-yard jaunt was a school record.

“Our guys know, especially up front, that if they can get hats on hats and can create some movement, there is a chance something special is going to happen,” Reisert said. “I think it gives confidence to the offense. It certainly gives us confidence heading into each week knowing that you have a guy that is a little different than everybody that we are playing.”

Hardy has not reached 100 yards rushing in only one game since, racking up 1,405 yards on 178 carries with 14 touchdowns this season.

“JaQuan and I hang together almost every day,” teammate Charlie Cleveland said. “The first thing about JaQuan is his work ethic. No one ever sees it. He will go in the turf room three times a day in the summer. What you see on the field is what he does in here.”

All 14 touchdowns have come in league play. The Dragons went 7-0 in Great Midwest Athletic Conference matchups.

“I can honestly say that ‘Quan is the best running back I ever played with in my life,” Cleveland said. “He can break 10 tackles on a play if he can. Every time he touches the ball, I think it is a touchdown.”

Tiffin is 9-1 overall, winners of eight in a row thanks in part to the play of Hardy. The redshirt junior from Westlake has taken on the load at running back and is loving every minute of it.

“It is incredible what he has been able to accomplish,” Reisert said. “I think he would be the first to tell you a large part of it is because of the guys that block for him.”

The redshirt part of his classification is due to an injury suffered last year.

“I ended up tearing 80 percent of my meniscus in my left knee,” Hardy said. “The doctors told me that I would have 20 percent left and I might not be able to play football. I told them I was going to beat the odds.”

But, while he spent a lot of time away from the field, Hardy found another passion in life.

“It was crazy,” Hardy said. “What is really crazy is I found my faith in Christ during that specific time. Without football, I felt lost. That created a beast inside me. I got hungry.”

Staying strong in his faith, Hardy said he knows what happened last year was for a reason.

“My faith is really high,” Hardy said. “I started having faith in Jesus Christ in my sophomore year when I got baptized and that started it. I was praying every day. When I came to Tiffin, I got baptized again and that changed my whole life. Everything happens for a reason.”

That reason perhaps has been to make a stronger running back with more ability to cut and make defenders miss at an uncanny number.

“I got an in-depth look at his injury, because both of us got hurt at the same time last year,” Cleveland said. “We both rehabbed together, but we did not let it bring us down. He definitely fought through it.”

Another telling number from Hardy is his fumbles. Of the 178 carries, he has fumbled just once and it came during a 15 carry, 138-yard, and three-touchdown performance against Alderson Broaddus.

“He has been great about that. We preach ‘CPW’ –it is how we carry the football here at Tiffin,” Reisert said. “JaQuan has been the first guy to embody that and buy into that. Our young guys are the same way. You see them take after the leader and it is cool for him to take such pride in protecting the football. It is a credit to his hard work. I see him down here in the summer on off days and he is carrying the football the same way every time. There is a consistency in his body and his muscle memory.”

Hardy has been stellar throughout the season, but the last four games –Alderson Broaddus, at Lake Erie, Hillsdale, and at Findlay –have been above and beyond good. In those four wins, Hardy has run the ball 81 times for 681 yards and nine touchdowns.

“I think the big thing for JaQuan early on was he needed to get in the flow,” Reisert said. “He had missed the whole season last year and he did some things in spring ball, but we did not want to push him in spring ball too much. It took him a little bit of time to get into the flow and speed of the game. He had to trust his body, trust his mind again, and trust his skill set again.”

The win for Hardy and the Dragons was monumental. Findlay had beaten Tiffin every time they met since 1993 — well before Hardy was even born.

“It was special,” Hardy said. “I told the guys that it was bigger than this. We were about to make history. That game was bigger than one game. We were able to take it and get to the next level.”

When Hardy left Westlake and journeyed 90 minutes west to Tiffin University, he did it with a purpose.

“Back home, it is a big city,” Hardy said. “People wondered where Tiffin even was. I wanted to go somewhere to play and not just be a number. I don’t care what people say about me. I want to go out there, have fun, and win.”

The transition to Reisert from former coach Gary Goff during the offseason was smooth, said Hardy.

“It was a big transition,” Reisert said. “One big thing I feel is different about coach Reisert is he will be straight upfront with you, whether you want to hear it or not.”

Hardy said he is close to his parents and large family. He has 14 siblings.

“I am very close with my parents,” Hardy said. “My parents are almost my best friends. Their faith is almost greater than mine. I am really close with my siblings.”

Hardy said he enjoys the patience that comes with fishing — but only from land — but can also mix it up with the best when it comes to video games.

“I am somewhat of a game fanatic, especially with Fortnite and Call of Duty,” Hardy said. “I love the kids and I love football. School is a big part, especially since I want to get my Master’s degree in business.

After college, Hardy has a plethora of things he is interested in, including owning either a turf room, a weight room, a restaurant, or even a gas station. But for now, he and the Dragons will play in their biggest game Saturday when they travel to Kutztown in the opening round of the Division II playoffs.

“JaQuan is incredibly humble,” Reisert said. “He has an incredible amount of passion for the game of football. He has an incredible amount of passion for life and passion in faith. He is a guy who I think is a tremendous representative of Tiffin and Tiffin football.”