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North Central wide receiver has NFL aspirations

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DeAngelo Hardy is confident he can find a spot in the NFL, and when teams ask why the Division III North Central wide receiver didn’t challenge himself by transferring during a five-year college career, his answer resonates.

In summer 2021, Hardy pulled up on the Naperville campus with his belongings and was fixing to unpack when his sister Domenique called. Their mother, Antoinette Mentone, was ill, and the Lakes High School graduate was summoned to a hospital in the city.

Days later, Mentone died of cancer, leaving Hardy stunned and grieving.

“The real reason I stayed, Coach (Brad) Spencer (and teammates), they were the first people at the hospital for me, to put their arms around me, to have a shoulder for me to cry on when I needed them at a tough time,” Hardy said.

As Hardy piled up monster statistics for the Cardinals — 1,009 yards and 12 touchdowns in 2021 followed by 1,198 yards and 20 TDs in 2022 — and saw other D-III players with similar production make the jump to higher competition, the temptation was there … briefly.

“It definitely hit my mind to hit the transfer (portal),” said Hardy, who quickly added he didn’t explore it because of the bond he had developed with the staff and teammates, including running back Ethan Greenfield and quarterback Jake Johnson, who were a year ahead of him at Lakes and went to North Central.

“I wouldn’t change that for the world,” Hardy said. “I was truly blessed.”

The 6-foot-1, 208-pound Hardy is unlikely to be drafted, but scouts with multiple teams have intimated he could wind up being a priority free agent, a guy with offers from multiple teams as the draft comes to a close. In that situation, it would be about picking the opportunity that with a break or two could wind up fruitful as he attempts to make the long trek from D-III to the NFL.

Hardy will participate in the local pro day the Chicago Bears are conducting Tuesday at Halas Hall. He was at Northwestern’s pro day last month, running the 40-yard dash in a range from 4.57 seconds to 4.61.

North Central College wide receiver DeAngelo Hardy works out during practice on Nov. 7, 2023, in Naperville. (John J. Kim/Chicago Tribune)

John J. Kim/Chicago Tribune

North Central College wide receiver DeAngelo Hardy works out during practice on Nov. 7, 2023, in Naperville. (John J. Kim/Chicago Tribune)

Spencer said representatives from 30 teams came through campus last fall as Hardy has been a known quantity. He had a 186-yard game against Mount Union as a freshman in 2019, a three-touchdown game against Millikin in 2021, six multiple-touchdown games in 2022 and a 278-yard, four-score game against Carroll last fall.

In a quarterfinal victory against Wisconsin-LaCrosse in December, Hardy set the school’s career record with his 57th touchdown reception, threw a touchdown pass, intercepted a Hail Mary to close the first half and returned an onside kick for a touchdown. He also lined up in the backfield from time to time for the Cardinals, and some refer to him as the Deebo Samuel of D-III.

“He walks in the room, he looks like a receiver from Alabama,” Spencer said. “From an athletic standpoint, we were very fortunate to get him and he kind of flew under the radar. Once he was here, we put some things in our offense to allow him to play quarterback, running back, line up in the backfield. That versatility that scouts have seen on film have been things they have mentioned.”

Hardy primarily played running back as a high school senior, which might have limited interest in him. He had bigger schools pursuing him, though. Virginia encouraged him to start at a junior college to get his grades up and transfer. Wyoming wanted him to walk on and get his grades up while promising a scholarship on the back end.

“In high school I didn’t take the school part too seriously,” Hardy said. “I just really focused on the football part and so I didn’t have the best of grades, so everyone was offering me potential walk-on (opportunities) and I was looking around and sorting out my options.”

Spencer and his staff showed interest, and Hardy was drawn to the program by his former teammates. It turned out to be a perfect match. Once at North Central, Hardy found his way in the classroom. He has earned a degree in sociology and is looking forward to walking at graduation this spring.

As thrilling as his accomplishments were on the field as the Cardinals won two national championships, Hardy’s growth as a student was probably just as fulfilling.



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