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On Sale at Newsstands Thru Jan. 2006
Biding His Time
Patience, faith help keep walk-on Jermaine Hardison focused on future

No yards, no tackles, no touchdowns.

Jermaine Hardison was wrapping up his second regular season with the University of Oklahoma football team, and he had yet to see game action as the annual Oklahoma State contest approached.

He is among a number of non-scholarship players, or walk-ons, who join the team each year with no fanfare or promises of playing. But they participate anyway, hoping to improve enough to catch a coach’s eye and earn a little playing time, maybe even a scholarship.

There may be a slew of zeroes on his stat sheet, but there is one number associated with Hardison: the “15” on his uniform. The way he sees it, as long as he has an OU uniform and busts his hump every day in practice, it’ll only be a matter of time before Bob Stoops or one of his assistants calls his number to get in the game.

“My friends at home are asking the same question, ‘When are they gonna put you out there?’” Hardison said. “I tell them, ‘I don’t know.’ I’m working hard to get out there.”

Stoops complimented Hardison’s ethic, calling him a “good team guy, good athlete, just a very good worker.”

Receivers coach Darrell Wyatt said Hardison “made some nice plays in a couple of (fall) scrimmages and I believe he is a guy who has a chance to play some here.”

Wyatt admitted, though, that the climb up for a walk-on is a steep one, saying, “It’s difficult, but is something that can be achieved.

“The biggest part of it is maintaining the mindset that you are going to find a way to get it done,” Wyatt said, “You find any weaknesses or areas of your game you need to work on and do what you need to do to improve.”

The 6-foot-3, 200-pound sophomore receiver admitted to being “pretty disappointed” about not getting on the field yet, but he also considers his situation a blessing.

Hardison was, after all, part of a Big 12 championship team last season, and he traveled with the squad to Miami, where OU played for the national title in the Orange Bowl. And this year, Hardison has traveled and dressed for all the road games.

Meanwhile, he is making fine academic progress as a graphic design major.

“I sketch a lot and I’m pretty good with computers,” he said. “I want to make logos for companies, posters, fliers, and things like that.
In sizing up his overall situation, Hardison figures, “They say everybody has their time and I guess it’s not my time yet. It will be. I can feel it. I pray about it and my family prays with me.”

“A lot of people never get this opportunity,” he added later, “whether it’s their situation or it’s the grades or whatever. It’s just a great opportunity and definitely a tremendous blessing for me and my family.”

Hardison’s family situation makes him even more appreciative of what he has at OU. Both of his parents have been imprisoned — his father for armed robbery since 1988, and he has no idea where his mother is.

He could have been placed in state custody and separated from the rest of his family, but his sisters, particularly LaQuetta Mason-McClarity, stepped in and raised him since middle school. Hardison calls his big sis “my mom, dad, grandpa, everything.”

“She took me in because I’m family and she loves me,” Hardison said. “She wasn’t going to let me get adopted or put in some kind of home. She’s only seven years older than I am. She raised me since eighth grade, so it was basically raising two kids because she has a daughter of her own.

“Both of my sisters have been a tremendous blessing my whole life,” he added. “(LaQuetta) getting to come out and see me run out with the team and be a part of this, to hear the stories of what’s going on, especially with how we grew up and the things we saw and had to go through — she’s really proud of me and wants to see me succeed.”

Hardison was a good high school football player at Midwest City, garnering a measure of college interest before he graduated in 2002. Nothing really panned out, so he embarked on the juco route to Northeastern Oklahoma A&M.

His single year there amounted to an emotional roller coaster. He had arthroscopic procedures on each knee within two months of each other — nothing major, but surgeries nonetheless — and he learned his girlfriend was pregnant with twins.

Faced by those major unexpected challenges, Hardison strongly considered giving up football. But upon further review, he said, “Nah.”

Football is Hardison’s passion, has been since he was a little kid. In the end, he couldn’t give it up that easily.

“I just decided to play football again and decided (OU) would be the best place for me to come,” he said. “If I was going to do it, then do it right and be a Sooner.”

Hardison enrolled at OU and was welcomed on the football team, but he doesn’t have the full-ride scholarship scores of other teammates have. So like thousands of other university students, Hardison is getting by with financial aid packages of grants and loans.

Meanwhile, his schedule is jam-packed between classes, long practices and seeing his 2-year-old twin boys, Jermaine Jr. and Jalen, who live in Norman. He spends time with them virtually every day, he said.

On the football team, Hardison arrived as a receiver, was switched to defensive back last spring, and then asked personally by Stoops to go back to receiver. It was yet another unexpected twist in his college career, but one he didn’t mind.

“I was pretty surprised to hear he wanted me to move to defense at first,” Hardison said. “I was like, ‘OK, that’s fine, wherever I can help the team out.’ … I’m just like everybody else, I want to be on the field wherever I can help the team.”

Receivers coach Wyatt said special teams probably is Hardison’s quickest ticket to the playing field. “Certainly,” he said, “he is big and athletic enough to fit the kind of guy we’re looking for.”

Still, it’s been two seasons at OU without getting in a game, and plenty of athletes would give up at this point. Hardison said, “I have not yet been able to step on the field; I’m praying it happens soon.”

But Hardison also says he’s not discouraged because “as a walk-on coming in, I knew it was going to be tough.”

Hardison also has subtle reason to believe his number someday will be called. First, he appreciates the individual coaching he receives from Wyatt and even, on occasion from Stoops himself. Second, Hardison is traveling to all away games this year — something he wasn’t chosen to do last season.

“It definitely boosted my ego and gave me a lot of confidence,” Hardison said of the travel. “Even with Coach Stoops coaching me one-on-one like that, I was like there’s something that had to be noticed.”

Hardison also feels a part of the team because he gets along with everyone and vice versa. Teammates call him “Day-Day,” a character in the movie “Friday After Next” and played by actor Mike Epps, because they think the receiver favors Epps.

Hardison likes the nickname, but he looks forward to establishing his own name on the team. The receiver still has two years of eligibility to do so, and he’s sure it’s only a matter of time.

Once he gets that call, Hardison smiled and speculated he’s “definitely going to be excited, but I will try to humble myself and calm myself the best way possible so I can focus on what I can do.”

“The key for Jermaine is he’ll need to continue to work hard and continue to get better,” Wyatt said. “We start off every spring giving everyone an equal shot and I feel Jermaine will be someone who has a chance to compete for playing time.”

(Editor's Note: This feature originally appeared in the Week 12 issue of Sooner Spectator. Read more interesting features like this by subscribing.)