A NEW BEGINNING: Former NFL player Justin Hardy is in the thick of it as the Redblacks’ rookie camp opens

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For most players, Wednesday’s opening day of Ottawa Redblacks rookie camp at TD Place was a first opportunity to impress the coaches enough to stick with them for the 2022 CFL season.

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It might have been a little different for 30-year-old Justin Hardy, who is far from a professional football rookie and is far from fresh out of a college football program. Hardy’s one of those guys who’s done it before. In 2015, he was a fourth-round draft pick for the NFL’s Atlanta Falcons. And it wasn’t a fleeting moment for Hardy, who stayed with the Falcons through 2019 — with 95 catches for 946 yards and nine touchdowns on the stat sheet. After not playing football in 2020, he got another NFL look in 2021 with the Chicago Bears.

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In March, the 5-foot-10, 192-pound receiver signed with the Redblacks. Now, on his first trip to Canada, he’s trying to take another chance in professional football.

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“It’s something you think about as a kid,” Hardy said of playing in the NFL. “It’s been really good to reach the highest level in the sport and play in the Super Bowl, it’s helped a lot in growing me as a person.”

So why the trip to Canada? Why sign with the Redblacks?

“My thing is to go out and have fun,” Hardy said. “It was never difficult (making the decision to come to Canada). The CFL was something that was always on the table. The opportunity was perfect… so here I am.”

Sometimes ex-NFL guys have a whiff of themselves when they come into a CFL camp; They believe the Canadian league is a step or two behind and getting game time and making an impact will be a no-brainer. It often doesn’t work that way. Hardy takes no chances, he has his eyes open and is ready to settle into any role the team asks of him.

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“Maybe some people see that as a minor thing, but it isn’t; At the end of the day, it’s all football,” he said. “The guys out here are great athletes so I have to go out there and compete at the highest level.”

After starting out as a walk-on at East Carolina University, Hardy played in 49 games. He finished his NCAA career with 387 receptions for 4,541 yards, averaging 11.7 yards per catch, with 35 touchdowns. There are many receivers with CFL experience on the Redblacks training camp roster; Hardy hopes to fit right in there.

“There is a learning curve for me. I have to learn everything to make sure I’m at my best,” he said.

With 60 players in rookie camp, there’s plenty for Redblacks head coach/offending coordinator Paul LaPolice to watch and absorb. In many cases, it’s the team’s first live look at a player. When asked what he saw on Day 1, LaPolice said, “There’s not usually a lot of great things on Day 1 of rookie camp, but I thought some of the 1-on-1s were okay. I thought some of the quarterbacks threw the ball with some speed.

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What are the coaches looking for during the short rookie camp?

“The first thing you talk about, can you learn it in three days? They can’t make mistakes on Day 3 that they made on Day 1,” LaPolice said. “Next you have to show some skill, whether it’s speed as a receiver or ability as a linebacker to play in the box — they just have to show some skill. A lot of that is mental and seeing them move in space.”

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There are a variety of experience levels at camp. While there are youth fresh out of Canadian or US college football, there are also some players who have returned from professional camps and are getting a chance in Ottawa.

You get guys coming over here from (U Sports) who move better than other guys in rookie camp,” LaPolice said. “So someone who’s from the US and has been in the NFL has a whole different game to learn.”

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THE END AT: There were three quarterbacks on the field yesterday: Concordia Stingers’ Olivier Roy (CFL Canadian Quarterback Internship Program), David Moore (Central Michigan) and Tyrie Adams (Western Carolina). Once main camp begins, they’ll be joined by veterans Jeremiah Masoli and Caleb Evans… Former All-Star wide receiver Brad Sinopoli was on the field Wednesday. Don’t get too excited, he’s not coming out of retirement. He was just helping the strength and conditioning team…Early Wednesday, the Redblacks announced they were signing American offensive lineman Justice Powers (6ft 3, 295 pounds, Alabama in Birmingham) and American linebacker Xavier Woodson Luster (6ft). had 1,220lbs, Arkansas State) and Troy Young (6ft, 205lbs, Arizona) … Late Tuesday, the Redblacks announced that they were signing American defenseman Ja’Von Rolland-Jones (6ft 2, 253lbs, Arkansas State – (he was at Cincinnati Bengals training camp in 2018, then the LA Rams practice team) and American defenseman Tenny Adewusi (6ft, 206lbs, Delaware)… Also on Tuesday, the Red Blacks announced they had signed seven players — offensive linemen Zack Pelehos and Cyrille Hogan-Saindon, receiver Keaton Bruggeling, defensive back Daniel Valente, linebacker Subomi Oyesoro, fullback Connor Ross and running back Luca Perrier – from the CFL draft of the l Last week and two – defensive back Edris Jean-Alphonse and kicker Gabriel Ballinas – from the Global Draft… Rookie Camp has two more days to go – Thursday and Friday, from 10:55 a.m. to 12:45 p.m

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