UM tight end will have big cheering section

MISSOULA — Greg Hardy is going home — well, close to home, anyway.

Hardy, a standout tight end at The University of Montana, isn’t actually making the trek to his hometown of Fairview, Montana. Instead he’s headed to “nearby” Grand Forks, North Dakota, where he and the Grizzlies will play the University of North Dakota on Saturday, Oct. 20.

Fairview (population 840) is located right on the North Dakota border. Hardy’s unofficial fan club is making the tip from Fairview to Grand Forks. UND is the Grizzlies’ eighth opponent of the 2012 football season and one of four new teams that joined the Big Sky Conference this year.

Watching Hardy play in person is the big draw, of course. But so is the venue: The drive from Fairview to Missoula would be about 650 miles. But from Fairview to Grand Forks is a mere 350 or so.

“What I have heard so far is that there are two fan buses going out of Sidney (which is 11 miles away from Fairview),” said Hardy, who was an all-league first team selection last season. “That’s pretty cool!”

“Also, Marty Schaide — I was lucky enough to be coached by him in high school when he was an assistant coach at Fairview — actually bought 50 tickets and offered them to the Fairview football team and their families,” Hardy said. “I know the whole football team is going up and they’re all going to be wearing their Warriors jerseys.”

Hardy, a preseason All-Big Sky pick in 2012, said he was recruited heavily by three Big Sky schools to play football — UND, the Griz and Montana State.

“I came on a visit here (to UM and Missoula) and was really undecided at the time,” Hardy said. “It really came down to UND and the Griz. UND at that time was just bumping up (to the FCS) and that meant waiting for four years. I always wanted to play for championships.

“That was a big factor in me coming to Missoula,” Hardy continued. Another one: Hockey is the big ticket in Grand Forks. “In Missoula, it’s football,” he said.

“Marty has a brother, Monte Schaide (a nosegard), who was a two-time All-American at UND (in 1991 and 1992). Those two really pushed for me to go to UND,” Hardy said.

“Now, Monte lives in Missoula,” Hardy said. “Monte is actually the honorary captain for UND this week, and I’m honorary captain for the Griz. So we’ll get to shake hands in front of the Fairview home crowd. He’s one of the best football players and played with my dad (Jim Hardy). We’re the only two to play at this level who have come out of Fairview.  That will be a moment that I will never forget.”

“When I called (former head) Coach (Dale) Lennon at UND and told him I was choosing Missoula, he showed me that they were a real class program. He said, ‘I can’t blame you for making that decision. You’re going to get a chance to play for championships right away. You’re going to be very successful.’  I have the utmost respected for UND

Still, “I don’t regret coming to Missoula for one second,” Hardy added.

Hardy, listed as a 2012 All-America candidate in UM’s annual football yearbook, said that the jump from eight-man football to the Division I FCS level was an intimidating one. His graduating class had just 24 students, he said, and “we’d be lucky if we had 16 players at that time on the football team,” he said.

“I was a deer in the headlights when I got to Missoula,” said Hardy, who will be starting in his 32nd career game at UND on Saturday. “I didn’t know what cover two, cover three, man bale, man press meant. In eight-man, all I had to do was beat the guy across from me. And you know there, everyone’s kind of the same speed.  So I didn’t have those fast corners and fast safeties who can track me down on the other side of the field. That was the big difference —just speed, the 11 guys, and the lingo of football was just so much different.  I always say that eight-man taught me how to tackle and how to run. The coaches had to coach, but they also had to play against us in practice so that we would have enough guys to give us a scout-team look.”

At Fairfield, Hardy not only earned 12 letters in football, basketball, and track and field, but he was a four-time all-conference pick in each of those sports and earned all-state honors in them as well.

“Being from a little school like that, and not coming from a winning program at the time, it just taught me to never quit,” he said.

In Missoula, “I was lucky enough to have (former Griz tight ends) Steve Pfahler, Dan Beaudin, and Rob Overton, who really took me under their wing, kept me fighting, and told me to never give up. I just can’t thank those guys enough.  They were really my role models here, along with (former assistant coach Dominic) Coach Daste. They’ve all helped me have the success I’ve had here.”

— UM Sports Information