A student-operated publication at Santa Rosa Junior College.

The Oak Leaf

A student-operated publication at Santa Rosa Junior College.

The Oak Leaf

A student-operated publication at Santa Rosa Junior College.

The Oak Leaf

From career-ending injury to Big 8 superstar: Overcoming adversity to lead the league

Just over two years ago, doctors told Richie Hardwick he would never play football again.

He had  fractured three bones and tore a ligament in his right foot during a non-league game against Woodcreek-Roseville. It wasn’t the injury itself that worried doctors; it was whether Hardwick would be able to play with screws and other hardware in his foot.

Flash forward to 2018, and Hardwick leads Santa Rosa Junior College Football with 71 tackles; he’s picked off two passes and leads the Big 8 with three blocked kicks. He’s also a vocal leader on a strong defense.

Hardwick always knew he wasn’t done playing football.

“I knew for myself [the Woodcreek-Roseville game] wasn’t going to be my last time competing,” Hardwick said.

His rehab process was grueling and left him with a difficult choice: attempt to play despite his doctor’s concerns or walk away from the game he loves.

Hardwick was in a cast for more than two months and a walking boot for another. He got his cast off the Thursday before Vintage High’s senior night, for which he decided to suit up.

“I didn’t play, but it felt good to be able to at least warm up and walk out.”

He was cleared to resume running in January of 2017, four months after his injury. He then moved on to extensive leg workouts a month later.

Once he began to work out, Hardwick was forced to take it slow.

“I went from squatting 370 in high school to only squatting 135 pounds,” he said. “It was super discouraging at first, but I really tuned into it and focused. I wanted to make memories for myself and my family.”

After watching from the sidelines for more than a year, Hardwick’s first game back  on the field was SRJC’s 2017 season opener on the road against Butte College.

“It was a huge eye-opener for me on the change in speed, especially after sitting for so long,” he said. “It was full of emotions and felt great to be back.”

By the end of the 2017 season, Hardwick tallied nine tackles and one of his signature blocked kicks. He was ready to take on a larger role in the defense in 2018 as the starting strong safety.

Hardwick credits his team with helping him get past his injury.

“It’s a great feeling getting to build relationships with new people who are going through their own battles,” he said. “We’re able to enjoy the sport together and work together.”

SRJC head coach Lenny Wagner was impressed with Hardwick’s contributions.

“His injury has not slowed him down one bit. It’s never been a factor in the time that he’s been here.”

Hardwick hasn’t let his injury affect his play or his attitude. In fact, most of his teammates are still in the dark about both his injury and his recovery.

“My coaches have been incredibly supportive, but most of my teammates actually have no idea unless they played with me in high school,” he said.

Hardwick’s SRJC career ended Saturday, Dec. 1, in a bowl game at American River College. He will finish on a high note as one of the best safeties in the Big 8, ranking sixth in tackles and third among defensive backs.

“I’ve decided that I’m going to stop playing after this season and finish on my own terms,” Hardwick said.

SRJC defensive coordinator Dante DePaola is proud of Hardwick.

“He has been the best he could possibly be and that has put him in a position to perform well and help his team be successful,” DePaola said.

Hardwick’s teammates take note of his ability to battle through adversity.

“He’s tough man,” said running back Kenneth Fitzgerald. “Richie’s a dog.”

Coach Wagner admires his star sophomore and is quick to heap praise on the young man.

“He’s a person of few words and a true leader by example,” he said. “He’s an amazing person and truly a walking example of what we want our players to be.”

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About the Contributor
Ian MacGregor
Ian MacGregor, Sports Editor
Ian McGregor is a Sports editor at Santa Rosa Junior College’s Oak Leaf. He is pursuing a career in Sports journalism and is most interested in basketball and football. He also has an undying love for Cleveland, particularly their basketball team, the Cleveland Cavaliers.

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