Jermarcus "Yoshi" Hardrick tweeted something over the weekend that he genuinely hopes inspires people.
"Goals have no expiration date on them!" he wrote.
The exclamation point is appropriate because the former Nebraska offensive tackle feels on top of the world. He should feel immensely excited and proud because Saturday, when he received his diploma from NU, he became the first person in his family — on either side — to graduate from college.
Truth is, Hardrick, who completed his college playing eligibility in 2011, could inspire a lot of people in this world, particularly those from difficult backgrounds.
"I didn't know when it was going to happen, but I knew it was going to happen, man," he said Monday as he worked out in Lincoln for an upcoming training camp with the Winnipeg Blue Bombers of the CFL. "I was a small-town kid from Mississippi when I met my junior college coach, and he told me that I was going to graduate college. That was the first time I'd heard that in my entire life."
Jeff Sims was his head coach at Fort Scott (Kansas) Community College. Now the head coach at Missouri Southern, Sims excitedly tells of the call he received a couple weeks ago right after Hardrick finished his last class at Nebraska. When Hardrick told Sims he was set to graduate, Sims' mind flashed back to Hardrick's first team meeting at Fort Scott.
Hardrick was fresh out of South Panola High School in Batesville, Mississippi (population 7,463), one of the nation's most dominant high school programs.
"Jermarcus raised his hand and said, 'Coach, do I have to go to class here? I didn't go to class in high school,'" Sims recalled. "And I said, 'Yes, you do have to go to class.' It's interesting. He's very easy to coach. When I said he needed to start going to class, he started going to class. Now, with his degree in hand, he's a great example of what a place like the University of Nebraska can do."
As Hardrick progressed further and further in his schooling, he was driven by the desire to "change the cycle" in his family, he said. He wanted to show his three children -- ages 5, 3 and 2 -- the importance of education. He wanted to be an example. That's what drove him more than anything -- his wife, Samantha, and those three beautiful kids you see on his Twitter page.
What's more, he wanted to prove to himself he could do it. But there was even something else driving him: He wanted to prove to folks back home that it was possible to change the direction of their lives. After all, he had excuses to go down a wrong path. He grew up without a father in a town where it was easy to find trouble. His mother, Delores Hardrick, worked two jobs for as long as he can remember, including overnights as a CNA.
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He often was on his own. But he wasn't always on his own. A family friend, James Calvin, was always there for him, so much so that Hardrick calls him his "dad for life."
As for his mother, "The sacrifices she made just so I was OK, it just drove me," he said. "I grew up with a lot of anger because I didn't have a dad. I wanted to do good for my mom, but I just had so much anger. I didn't even really know why. I would play it off. It was just that missing presence from not having my father. I was on my own a lot. That drove me."
Sometimes his situation drove him to tears. He didn't fully understand the impact of his father's absence until he was older. He learned about himself as he read about other people's lives. He saw movies that helped him understand his plight, including the 2009 film "The Blind Side," based on a true story about a hulking offensive left tackle, Michael Oher, who overcame enormous odds to become an All-American at Ole Miss and a first-round draft choice of the Baltimore Ravens.
The 6-foot-5, 319-pound Hardrick, set to begin his sixth season in the CFL, has his own beautiful story to tell, one that could inspire children in single-parent homes. His story can inspire anyone, really. He earned his bachelor's in sociology and plans to get his master's in a field that would keep him in athletics.
"Having the support from my family and Dennis (Leblanc) at Nebraska, that took a lot of stress and pressure off of me," the 28-year-old Hardrick said, referring to NU's executive associate athletic director for academics. "Every year I was trying to knock out at least two or three classes in the offseason."
Leblanc was in touch constantly, as if Hardrick were still a full-time student at Nebraska.
"That's why when I walked out of my last class, he was one of the first people I called," Hardrick said. "We had a heart-to-heart. There were tears. It was the moment we had been waiting for. Dennis was the second person in my life that told me I was going to graduate. When I came on my recruiting visit here, I didn't know what to think of him. I didn't know if he was just talking smoke in my ears.
"After being here for a little while, I got to know Dennis and fell in love with him. He sat down and told me, 'You're going to graduate college. We're going to do it together. I don't care how long it takes.' That was the hope I needed. It kept me pushing."
It kept him pushing right up until he broke the cycle.