Greg Hardy is trying to stay grounded as his stock is rising.
The expectations and hype for the University of Montana tight end are high, but the junior from Fairview said he strives to be humble. Pegged as a preseason first-team all-Big Sky pick, Hardy is not interested in resting on his laurels.
"Just from my family background and how I was brought up I would say I focus on hard work and doing things right," he said when asked if he was the best tight end in the league. "That's just staying focused on getting better, rather than having accolades. Hopefully I'll have it at the end of the season."
The best tight end in the state?
"My answer would be the same," said Hardy, the second oldest of six children (one sister and four brothers)."If you go out, prove it, and if you do it all year, then we'll know. Nobody really knows right now. I can't really answer that question."
The 6 foot 5 inch, 245 pounder returns after starting 11 games for the Grizzlies last year. He was Montana's sixth leading receiver with 17 catches for 176 yards. He had four grabs for 62 yards, and a career-long 28-yard catch against Idaho State in 2010. He had a 23-yard touchdown catch in the season opener last season against Western State.
Hardy, a rare four-time all-conference selection in football, basketball and track in high school, saw limited time in 2009 because of the two senior starters at his position, but saw considerable action on special teams. He was a redshirt in 2008.
Q. Where is Fairview?
A. Northeastern Montana. It's right at the confluence of the Yellowstone and Missouri rivers. Right where those two rivers meet. It's 11 miles east of Sidney. It's actually split in half. One half is in North Dakota and one is in Montana. I was a country kid and actually lived a mile into North Dakota. From preschool to eighth grade, I went to school in East Fairview, which is in North Dakota. North Dakota pays the state of Montana so kids can go to school in Montana because there's no nearby high school in North Dakota.
Q. Are there a lot of North Dakota fans there?
A. It's mostly Montana and MSU fans in Fairview, with a little sprinkling of (University of North Dakota) and (North Dakota State University).
Q. How many of your teammates could find it on a map in less than 10 seconds?
A. Maybe 10.
Q. What building or restaurant or town landmark should visitors check out the next time they're in Fairview?
A. Definitely for restaurants, you've got the Powder Keg. It's a pizza joint. They've gotten some pretty big write-ups. Then there's the Double Barrel. It's a steak place. A good sit down dinner place. And for landmarks, we've got Fort Union and Fort Buford. Fort Union was a place Native Americans traded with Whites. Buford was a military base for settlers back in the day. They're both five to 10 minutes away from Fairview.
Q. Who is Fairview's biggest rival in high school sports?
A. Culbertson Cowboys.
Q. Fairview competes at the Class C level in football, playing with eight-man teams. What was it like for you when you first entered a game in front of several thousand people?
A. It was crazy. It was an amazing experience. I never experienced anything close to that in Fairview. We'd get a couple hundred or so fans scattered a few rows in the stands and people parking their trucks near the end zones. It's mind-blowing to go from that to me and 70 or so guys in full pads running out of the tunnel at Washington-Grizzly Stadium. Overwhelming is what that experience is like.
Q. What adjustments have you done in practice to try to prepare for playing in front more than 100,000 fans at Tennessee's Neyland Stadium?
A. We've had crowd noise since all the way back in winter conditioning. We've had to listen to Tennessee's fight song. We've been practicing on grass, which is what we'll be playing on. We've drowned out practices with crowd noise so that we can't hear. We've had to use hand signals and body language to communicate. That's made us a better team.
Q. Montana State tight end Shane Robison of Billings has a sweet mustache. Or at least he did in a photo I saw on the Bozeman Daily Chronicle's website. Have you seen it yet?
A. No, I haven't yet. I'm sure our tight end group can get something better going. We'll have to do that since I know that now.
Q. Who has the ugliest, um, I mean sweetest facial hair on the Grizzlies?
A. Ryan Fetherston, no question.
Q. Which player on Montana's defense do you say to yourself, ‘Man, I'm glad I don't have to go against that guy on game day.'
A. I have to pick one?
A. I would say Caleb McSurdy.
Q. What did you learn from former Griz tight ends Stephen Pfahler and Dan Beaudin?
A. They kind of gave me my foundation to be the tight end I've become. Pfahler showed me how to run routes and see coverages; how to compete. Dan Beaudin made me a better blocker. He taught me how to move your feet and how to be aggressive. That was something that was lacking in my game when I was younger.
Q. What is your biggest strength on the football field?
A. Being able to stay cool, calm and collected in the middle of a tough time during a game. Showing teammates and the other team that we've got it, and we're going to be all right.
Q. Griz coach Robin Pflugrad has said you have ‘definite leadership qualities.' Would you say you are a vocal leader, a lead-by-example kind of player, or a combination of the two?
A. A combination of the two. I definitely try to lead by action more: being to meetings on time, doing the right things, putting in the extra effort in the weight room, and more time watching videos. But if something needs to be said at the right time, I don't have a problem saying it.
Q. What are the differences between Griz quarterbacks Jordan Johnson, Gerald Kemp and Nate Montana?
A. I think Gerald and Jordan play a very similar style of football. Jordy gets the ball out a little quicker, and Gerald makes more plays with his feet. Nate has a strong arm and is pocket passer. He reads defenses well.
Q. Tennessee's mascot is the Volunteers. Have you ever done any volunteering yourself?
A. Yeah, we volunteer with Griz activities all over the place. If I go back home I'll work out with young football players, showing them the tricks of the trade I've learned here. I've also volunteered with a little kid baseball team when I was in high school. I'd like to do more, but I just don't have the time.
Q. Do you have any personal goals for the year?
A. First would have to be a good year in school. I'd like to have an undefeated season, make the playoffs, play in the national championship game and finally keep improving on what I accomplished last year as an all-Big Sky honorable mention selection. Hopefully if it works out I'll be considered all-Big Sky first team tight end.
Q. You're a part of the 2008 recruiting class. What other schools looked at you?
A. MSU and UND.
Q. How tough was the decision?
A. The choice between UND and Montana was a tough decision, but after watching the Cat-Griz game in Bozeman, I knew this was the place for me.
Q. Do you have any nicknames?
A. My only nickname I've had since I've been here is Hard Body.
Q. Do you follow any sports teams?
A. North Carolina is my basketball team. The Texans are my NFL team. I kind of follow the Michigan Wolverines because I thought I'd always play there in the Big House, and the New York Yankees is my baseball team. I also follow Minot State, the Beavers, because my sister plays basketball for them.
Q. What do you like to do in your free time?
A. I love to hunt and fish. Horseback riding. Float the river. I'm just an outdoors kind of guy.
Q. Did you ever read any stories involving those crime solving sleuths, the Hardy Boys?
A. I did when I was younger. I definitely read those.
Q. Do you use Facebook or Twitter?
A. I do use Facebook.
Q. Greg Hardy, a former Ole Miss standout, was a rookie defensive end on the Carolina Panthers last year. Have you ever received any Facebook friend requests or emails that might be intended for him?
A. No, but I got a lot of crap from guys on the team when he got drafted. They were saying ‘I didn't know you went to the league early.'
Q. You're a history major. What period in history interests you the most?
A. Definitely the Roman Empire. The Spartans, that era.