Versatile North Central WR Hardy brings playground football to D3 playoffs

Last week in North Central's playoff victory at Wisconsin-La Crosse, senior receiver DeAngelo Hardy had a receiving touchdown, passing touchdown, kickoff return touchdown and an interception.

It was the kind of performance that usually happens only on the playground, and the Lake Villa native has plenty of experience in that department. Recess football was serious business during his years at Olive Martin School.

"I remember recess, we'd always get in trouble for playing tackle football when they wanted us to play two-hand touch," Hardy said this week. "So it was kind of like playing sharks and minnows out there.

"Once you get the ball, you've just got to find a way to not get tackled and find your way to the end zone. It really helped with your elusiveness, your peripheral vision, stuff like that. It was just fun."

During those days it wasn't sometimes football, sometimes climb on the jungle gym. Outdoor recess was always about football.

"We'd play in any conditions," Hardy said. "If you didn't have your snow gear, you kind of had to sit out, because they were really sticklers about having it. For the most part everyone brought their snow gear and we played snow football, we played blacktop football, we played two-hand touch. We did all of it."

Hardy was always on target for a life in football. He had older cousins that played for the Antioch Vikings, so he signed up for tackle football at a young age and became an all-conference receiver at Lakes High School.

He got some Division I looks but decided to follow older Lakes teammates Ethan Greenfield and Jake Johnson to North Central. Greenfield won the Gagliardi Trophy as the top player in Division III last season.

"I came on a couple game-day visits," Hardy said. "Right when I got on campus, everyone treated me like I was there already, like I was part of the team. So I really liked the brotherhood and the family atmosphere I was exposed to when I got here."

He thought about moving to a higher level of college football but decided the chance to win a third national championship at North Central was all he needed.

"Ever since I started playing for the Antioch Vikings, I had the dream of going to the NFL," Hardy said. "I still want to go to the NFL. I've had NFL teams come to practice, talk to me, watch practice. It may help to have that bigger platform, but it's not really a necessity to going to where you want to go."

Where else would he get to do so much? Hardy has 1,179 receiving yards this season, 117 rushing yards and has thrown 3 touchdown passes. Last week he went in on defense and intercepted La Crosse's Hail Mary pass before halftime and returned an onside kick for the clinching touchdown. He's scored 64 TDs at North Central.

"It was a blessing, because that was the first interception of my college career," Hardy said. "I was really hyped after that. I've been begging coach to let me show off the arm. He's finally letting me do it this year and it's been paying off. I'm 3-for-3 with 3 touchdowns, so my QBR is through the roof right now."

The Cardinals (13-0) have one more step to reach the Division III title game for the fourth straight season (there was no Division III season in 2020). North Central will face Wartburg in Waverley, Iowa, on Saturday in the semifinals. If all goes well, coach Brad Spencer will have two more chances to find creative ways to use Hardy.

"He's a guy, you can run underneath, you can take deep over the top, you can put him as a single receiver, he can be a slot receiver," Spencer said. "In the last year or two we've started using him as a wildcat quarterback, using him at running back, putting him in the backfield as an H.

"We want to make sure he's touching the football as much as possible. I don't know if there's many athletes at our level that can keep up with him consistently."

Twitter: @McGrawDHSports

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