Randy York's N-sider
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If you didn't see the hit movie The Blind Side, which was nominated Tuesday for an Academy Award for Best Motion Picture of 2009, take some advice and blitz like a safety to the nearest theatre. The movie will give you a glimpse into the heart, mind and soul of one Jermarcus "Yoshi" Hardrick.
The Blind Side, inspirational entertainment that became the first football-themed film to get an Academy Award nomination since Jerry Maguire in 1986, will help you understand perhaps the most intriguing figure in Nebraska's 2010 recruiting class.
The movie is based on a true story about a hulking, oversized offensive left tackle, Michael Oher, who overcame all kinds of odds to become an All-American at Ole Miss and a 2009 first-round draft choice of the Baltimore Ravens. It not only impressed Academy voters, but also hit home with Yoshi, a junior college transfer who, at 6-foot-7 and 325 pounds, is an incredible hulk himself.
"I saw Blind Side the night before we lost the national junior college championship game (31-26) on an 84-yard punt return in the last 15 seconds," Yoshi said. "As I sat there that night, watching the movie (with friend, teammate and fellow Nebraska recruit Lavonte David), I kept thinking the same thing: That's the story of my life."
Any statement like that, of course, exacts some exaggeration, but only from those of us who never walked in the shoes of Yoshi Hardrick. We weren't there last December when he sat down in a Pittsburg, Kan., theatre, and saw himself in Oher, the quiet, soft-spoken, mountain-of-a-man who grew up on the streets of Memphis as a homeless teenager.
Yoshi and his older brother, Mario (a dead giveaway to the secret behind Jermarcus' nickname), weren't homeless, but both grew up mostly unsupervised on the streets of Batesville, Mississippi, near the Tallahatchie River, where their mom had to work two jobs because their dad left the family within weeks after Yoshi was born.
We should point out that Yoshi became Jermarcus' name in sixth grade, and at first, he hated being compared to a fictional dinosaur that was best known as Mario's accomplice in the Super Nintendo Entertainment System.
Mario and Yoshi Stayed Off the Streets
No problem there now. That entertainment system, after all, did help keep Mario and Yoshi Hardrick off the streets and in the house.
Still, by his freshman year when he wouldn't go by any other name, "I knew I had to get away from home," Yoshi said. "I had to get away from the violence, the trouble, the struggle of living in the streets. In these times, living where I did in Mississippi was not a good place to be."
His older brother became a welder in Batesville. "There was nothing at home for me, though ... nothing but the streets, and I didn't want that," Yoshi said. "I want to work hard and be successful. I kept coming up to Lincoln on my own, so I could understand all the help, all the care and all the support that's available here."
Nebraska Coach Bo Pelini minces no words. "Going to class and doing your homework every day comes first at Nebraska," Yoshi said. "Coach Bo told me there's no middle ground in that. Grades come first. If you don't work hard and make what you're capable of, you don't play. He wants us to be accountable in class just like we are on the field."
Fortunately, Yoshi already had developed that mindset in junior college. After committing to Auburn out of high school, he changed his mind and headed to Fort Scott Community College in Kansas, where he joined David and current Husker receiver Brandon Kinnie.
Because he'd worked equally hard academically and athletically at Fort Scott, Division I offers continued to pour in. He committed to LSU because he grew up an SEC fan and thought LSU was far enough away, yet still relatively close to his family's roots.
Recruiting, of course, can create circuitous routes. While still committed to LSU, for instance, Yoshi decided to join teammate David and visit Kinnie in Lincoln when Nebraska hosted Kansas State for the Big 12 North Championship.
Nebraska Was Love at First Sight
Talk about irony. Yoshi Hardrick, who lives and breathes to protect a quarterback's "blind side" at left tackle and, in fact, started on three straight unbeaten state championship teams in Mississippi's largest high school classification, got blindsided himself in Lincoln. For him, Nebraska was darn near love at first sight.
Yes, having two junior college teammates - one who was already a Husker and another who wanted to be one - heavily influenced his decision. So did the coaches he met, particularly "Coach P" (Carl Pelini), who never quit recruiting him, and "Coach (Barney) Cotton", his position coach. They have, in essence, become the father figure he never had growing up.
Nebraska fans knowing his name was important to Yoshi, but not as much as sitting behind the Husker bench and being part of another sellout crowd at Memorial Stadium. "Nebraska fans never sat down and never quit cheering," he said. "I couldn't hear one word anyone said, even when they were sitting next to me. I take that back. I do remember hearing three words - GO BIG RED!"
The understated Yoshi, who says "Yes Sir" at almost every available opportunity, surprised himself with his own sense of humor on that little punch line, and for a fraction of a second, he even creased a noticeable grin.
Back on task, he praised Dennis Leblanc's approach to Academics and Keith Zimmer's leadership in Life Skills. "I'm only a month into my first semester here, but I'm already signed up to visit a grade school and a hospital," Yoshi said. "When people care so much about you around here, it's hard not to care about somebody else."
For Yoshi, It's All in the Family
By now, you might have guessed what ultimately triggered Yoshi's decision to sign a letter of intent and enroll early.
Just like a scene straight out of The Blind Side, the most important thing in Yoshi's heart is, was and always will be Nebraska's incredibly strong sense of family.
"In the end, that's what it came down to ... being part of this family," Yoshi said. "There's just something about this place that makes you feel right about being here."
Jason Ankrah, a redshirt freshman defensive end from Gaithersburg, Md., is Yoshi's roommate at Harper Hall.
"Jason's the one who told me when I got here that Nebraska is just one big, happy family," Yoshi said. "He told me you can ask any person on the team if that's true, and it really is. We're all here together for one reason - to get better every day and become the best we can be. This is my new family, and I'm excited to see what we can all get done when we work hard and care about each other."
Respond to Randy
Voices from Husker Nation
Yoshi, I want to simply say, thank you for seeing in this program that which has been missing for so very long. Thank you for having the courage to look into the heart of a program and see not only that which is visible from the outside but also the foundation of what makes this program so special. I remember seeing a video where a Husker great talks about feeling invincible when the white helmet with the red "N" is worn and how strength is gathered knowing that he wasn't the first, nor the last in the "family" to know this feeling/emotion. Often we hear former players (especially the great ones) speak emotionally about their time at Nebraska and how there is nothing to compare it to. (I envy them.) For you and every person that has the privilege to play in and on the green surface we (the fans) call Memorial Stadium (home to you and all past/present/future Husker players), my hope is that when the final second comes, your memories are of family, of lifelong friends and of a fan base second to none. Carry yourself well, fill your plate with love, respect, effort and integrity and like so many before you, the memories will be unforgettable. This I think I can honestly say, as a Husker you will always be in the hearts of all of us who have the privilege of standing inside your "home" as the 12th member of your Husker team. I've little doubt that you and your "new" family will make the "whole" family proud. Go Big Red!!!! Howard Wasserburger, Omaha, Nebraska
Thanks so much for the story on "Yoshi". We are so proud to hear that players coming into this program think of it as a "family". So many of these kids need the support of a "family", and it's great that the coaches and staff have made it so the players feel like being part of one. Thanks to Coach Pelini, Coach Cotton and all the others who make this a special part of a player's life at Nebraska. We do listen to what you all are doing, and it makes us proud to be called a Husker Fan!!! Thank you!!! Ginny May and Louis Skogen, Husker Fans in Las Cruces, New Mexico
I am so proud of the Nebraska football program and how it has been resurrected by Bo Pelini, but the most important thing is that the players are buying into the family aspect of the team. Yoshi is going to be a great contributor - on and off the field - and his demeanor is perfect for Nebraska. I'm convinced that what was missing during the recent, rough years was having players who care about each other and have each other's backs. When you care about each and every person in the huddle with you, you will work that much harder to protect them and make sure they are successful. Yoshi has a great story, and he will fit in perfectly here at Nebraska. GO BIG RED! Josh Compton, Lincoln, Nebraska
Thanks for your report on Yoshi. He sounds like a great young man, and I know he will be a great asset to our team, school, and community. Paul Rath, Omaha, Nebraska