When Jets cornerback and special teams captain Justin Hardee would pass by reporters talking to his teammates after practice or after a game, he would think to himself “I’m gonna make them want to talk to me.”
On Wednesday afternoon, what Hardee used as motivation all season finally came to fruition as he spoke to the media about his Pro Bowl selection, the first of his career.
“It meant the world to me, honestly…” he said about the news. “It’s a blessing to get that recognition from my peers and the coaches in this league. It’s second to none because this league is so hard.”
Mostly used as a wide receiver during his first few seasons in the NFL, Hardee said he was “kinda decent” on special teams in college at Illinois. But it wasn’t until a talk with former Houston Texans head coach Bill O’Brien, who told Hardee that he “could be one of those guys, like a real special teams guy,” that the 28-year-old began to take that role seriously.
Hardee eventually made the transition from wide receiver to cornerback, but always found himself with special teams, as well. At that time, the Pro Bowl was the furthest thing from his mind.
“I didn’t even know about the Pro Bowl or anything like that necessarily my rookie year because at that point I just wanted to be on a 53-man roster, I didn’t necessarily care about any accolades,” Hardee said. “I just wanted to play and show that I can play in this league.”
Not only has the Cleveland native proved he can play in this league, he’s proven that it doesn’t always matter how one gets here, it’s what they do when they get here.
In fact, Hardee prefers his way.
“I can honestly say that it’s better late than never,” he said. “I’m glad that it happened for me, I’m glad it happened now compared to then because I appreciate it that much more just because I had to go through so much to get it so I’m very appreciative.”
Hardee added: “I didn’t get that feeling of being drafted, I didn’t get that call like ‘hey we’re coming to get you’ or anything like that and I haven’t gotten a championship. So it was just like a personal championship.”
Hardee’s statistics this season may not jump off the page as he has 12 total tackles and one forced fumble, but he’ll be the first to tell you that the film doesn’t lie and what the film shows is he’s consistently everywhere on the field.
So, now officially a Pro Bowler, Hardee was asked what he thinks makes him one.
“The way I prepare, the way I work,” Hardee said. “I’m very detailed in everything, I feel like I’m a leader, I stay on guys. I want the pressure on me.”