Q&A: Daniel Hardy talks NFL life, rehab, Montana State pride | MSU Bobcats

BOZEMAN — Daniel Hardy was sitting in a familiar place when a familiar face walked through the door.

“Oh my gosh,” Hardy exclaimed when he saw his former Montana State football teammate, Chase Benson, walk into the Bobcat Athletic Complex. “Look at him.”

“Look at you,” Benson said to Hardy as they hugged. “Did you get taller?”

“No,” Hardy said with a smile.

“You look taller,” Benson replied, also smiling.

Hardy has certainly gained some social stature since he and Benson were All-American defensive linemen in 2021. Hardy was selected by the Los Angeles Rams in the seventh round of April’s NFL Draft, and he’s spent almost all of his time in Southern California since.

In the Rams’ second preseason game on Aug. 19, Hardy a high ankle sprain. Fortunately for the linebacker/edge rusher, it didn’t cost him a roster spot. He’s been on designated injured reserve since the season started.

Hardy and Benson were joined by two other 2021 Bobcats in Bozeman this past weekend: offensive lineman Lewis Kidd and wide receiver Lance McCutcheon. Kidd, who plays for the New Orleans Saints, arrived less than 24 hours after his Thursday Night Football game. Like Hardy, McCutcheon is a member of the Rams, who had a bye last week (their former teammate, Troy Andersen, couldn’t make the trip because his Atlanta Falcons played on Sunday).

Hardy, 23, spoke with 406mtsports.com on Friday about his recovery, how the NFL compares to college, those aforementioned former teammates and more. His pick for most memorable MSU game this season likely would’ve changed if he talked a day later, after the No. 3-ranked Cats beat Weber State 43-38.

NOTE: This interview has been edited for clarity.

Los Angeles Chargers quarterback Chase Daniel is pressured by Los Angeles Rams linebacker Daniel Hardy during the first half of a preseason NFL game Saturday, Aug. 15 in Inglewood, Calif.

406: Are you just here for the game, or are you here for anything else?

DH: I came back for the game just because I miss Bozeman a lot, and this was my first opportunity I could get to really come back. Just happy to be able to come back to see my dogs play.

406: Obviously everybody wants to know where you’re at with (your recovery). Can you say anything as far as when you might return?

DH: I don’t have a number yet. Every time we get a number, it changes. I won’t say anything specific about it. Just making sure I’m getting out there and not going to make anything worse or reinjure or anything like that. We’re going about it the right way.

406: How has the rehab process been?

DH: It ain’t been sunshine and rainbows. [laughs] This is my first time dealing with an injury this serious in my career, so it’s a new frontier for me. I just try to attack it like I do everything else, keep an open mind and stay positive and take the same approach to what I do on the field to my rehab.

406: That injury must have been pretty devastating, I imagine, just because it was so early and you were so close to the season starting. Is that fair?

DH: Yeah. It was a little blow to the ego, but it’s a part of a bigger plan. It’s a long season. It’s a marathon, not a sprint. I know they’ll be happy to get me back whenever I can, and I’ll be just as happy to get out there and knock some heads.

406: We all know some of the differences between NFL and college, but what would you say are some that maybe people wouldn’t expect?

DH: In the NFL, nobody’s going to make you do anything. If you want to do it, great, awesome. Your decisions will reflect on your performance. Nobody’s going to make you do rehab if you really don’t want to do it. They’ll strongly advise you to do it, but there’s not a whole lot of mandatory stuff. If you want to be great, you’ll do it. Especially being in a place like LA with a lot of legends and guys who are really good and established in this league, it’s good to be around that type of influence because those guys are doing everything that they can. You see them putting in the extra work and things like that. It’s a contagious thing.

Everybody’s competing for a job. Some guys are competing for the same job, but everybody’s attacking it and playing off each other to get better.

406: Is it kind of cutthroat, or more cutthroat (than college)?

DH: Yeah. It’s a business, and everybody knows that about the NFL. You could walk into the locker room one day, and the next day the guy you were sitting next to isn’t there. But that’s part of the business, and kind of going back to that thing I was saying, sometimes you may not be able to control that but the decisions you make, you can help yourself in a situation like that. The coaches see you putting in the work day in, day out. They see you constantly improving, and they see that you’re dedicated to the team and whatever, you might help yourself when it comes time for that trade deadline or whatever it is.

Rams Football

Los Angeles Rams offensive linebacker Daniel Hardy (44) participates in drills at the NFL football team’s practice facility in Irvine, Calif., on July 29.

406: Obviously in preseason, that helped you. It wasn’t even like they were considering cutting you, even after the injury, it seemed like.

DH: I was very lucky. How I am as a player and a person, I just went out there and tried to just give it my all and show my work ethical. I wasn’t completely aware of how they felt. I was a little nervous after I got hurt about my place on the team. But luckily, I was still able to make that 53-man roster and still be part of the team this year.

406: Being able to do it with Lance, just how special has that been?

DH: It’s amazing. We’ve both been through tough times through this whole situation, and we’ve both been able to lean on each other, given everything that we went through to get to where we are. It’s really special to have a friend like that to go on the journey with you, who understands certain things that other people don’t coming from a smaller school. It’s fantastic to see his success, beating the odds as an undrafted free agent and what he did in the preseason, to see him shine. He’s patiently waiting his turn right now, and when he does get the opportunity he’s going to go crazy.

406: You probably were flashing back to some Montana State catches on that first (preseason) one he had, I imagine. You were probably the least surprised person on the whole team.

DH: Oh yeah. There were people running around with their hands on their head, just shocked and everything. I was like, “Yep, we’ve all seen that before. That’s completely normal.”

406: He was mic’d up for one of those games, and when her ran down on kickoff, he said that (former MSU special teams coordinator) BJ Robertson would give people Snickers (for being the first kick coverage player to reach the end zone). Is that something that you remember from your days as well?

DH: Oh yeah, absolutely. Like you said, the first one down on kickoff got a Snickers. Somehow, for the most part when I was here, RJ Fitzgerald was the one who got them every time. I don’t know how that happened. But that just goes to show the type of heart and competitive spirit that he has. He’s beating DBs down the field as a fullback. He’s probably got 50, 60 pounds on everybody else out there, and he’s flying down the field, winning reps.

406: (MSU defensive end) David (Alston) also had a funny quote, last week. He said you’ve been giving him tips and things after games. Have you been doing that with all the D-linemen here?

DH: Yeah. Sea Bass [Sebastian Valdez] has reached out to ask questions. Brody (Grebe’s) reached out to ask questions. When I’m watching the game and screaming at the TV, it’s nice to have those guys’ contacts and I can hit them up. They might not see it during the game, but for next week, they might see something. Like ‘Hey, you’ve got to change your technique up like this or do whatever.’ Just trying to help my guys out wherever I can.

Montana State defense end David Alston talks to reporters about his strip sack in the Bobcats’ 37-6 win over Idaho State, playing against MSU nickelback Ty Okada in high school and more on Monday, Oct. 10, 2022 at Bobcat Stadium in Bozeman.

406: What’s been the most memorable (MSU game) so far this season that you’ve seen?

DH: I want to say Eastern (Washington) because that was just a crazy game. That was the game Tommy (Mellott) went down and Sean (Chambers) stepped up and went absolutely nuts. Saw my guy Elijah Elliot, Portland native, do his thing. Willie did his thing. RJ was getting in the end zone. I felt like it was a moment that you can see the culture of this place really shine. We lose our starting quarterback, and whatever it is, the next man stepped up and everybody did something a little bit extra to pull their weight to make sure that we could get the job done.

406: I see Lewis here. He obviously has been playing a decent amount. Troy was starting and getting 13 tackles. Alex Singleton is playing well. How cool has it been to share these memories with these guys?

DH: It’s amazing just because all of us came from a smaller school. We’re not from one of those places where everybody’s like, “Oh, you’re going to the league.” We don’t have that benefit of everybody thinking we’ve got it like that. Everybody out there had to fight for everything that they have. Obviously, Alex Singleton, he went up to the CFL first and did his thing up there and had to fight his way into the NFL. Lance, undrafted. Lewis, undrafted. Troy, he carried this team on his back for four years. He earned every single bit of everything he has. I feel like we’re a different breed.

406: Your conversation with Troy after that (Rams-Falcons regular season) game, what was like watching him and then and then talking with him after. How would you describe that?

DH: I tried to talk a little crap to him on the sideline, just some friendly trash talk, but that guy’s locked in at all times. He’s on a mission and he’s there to get the job done. It was nice talking to him after the game, just catching up seeing how everything’s going. All of us went to war together. It’s nice to see each other again and catch up.

Pre-Game, MSU v.  NDSU

Montana State’s Daniel Hardy celebrates with Troy Andersen (15) and Amandre Williams (3) during the FCS championship game on Jan. 8 at Toyota Stadium in Frisco, Texas.

406: What’s Aaron Donald like? How fun has it been to play with him?

DH: The dude is absolutely amazing. He does things in practice on a regular basis that humans shouldn’t be able to do. He does stuff that I try to do but that would get me tossed out the way. He’s just that strong, that athletic, that gifted. And also, not only to see his natural gifts, but his work ethical is ridiculous. He has a regimen and he’s on it like clockwork. He’s in the weight room and in the training room every day. He never misses a beat. You can see him getting better every day, and he holds his peers to the same standard as well. Everybody thinks he’s crazy, things like that, but really, he holds the standard and he doesn’t let anybody fall below it.

406: Any moment that stands out with him? Any specific play?

DH: We were in OTAs, and we had a period where things weren’t going the best. Kind of having a rough day on defense, offense was getting after us a little bit. There was one period where it just looked like he said, “Screw it,” and it was like, tackle for loss, tackle for loss, sack. He completely took over the entire period by himself and put a stop to it just because, I don’t know, he felt the need to do something.

There are times in practice where I’ve seen them take him out and put somebody else in so the offense can actually get good work.

406: Sounds a little like that guy back there, Chase. (MSU players and coaches) talked about him like, “To get out like a good run fit against the scout team or something, we have to take him out.”

DH: 100%. There were times last year where the offense would be running, like, split zone. That’s where the tight end rocks back across the formation to kick out the (defensive) end. I’d be looking for him, and he was nowhere to be found because Chase had taken the guard and blocked him eight yards into the backfield and the tight end couldn’t get around him.

Those guys are just cut from a different cloth. They’re absolute freaks of nature, and it’s awesome getting to play next to them.


Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published.