When Allen Hardison sifted through letters from NCAA Division I universities for soccer five years ago he never thought his life would end up where it is now.
He never dreamed he would playing in a college football bowl game in New Mexico on Saturday. But that’s where his life is now, as a kicker for the University of Nevada. His dreams have changed from the ones he had while playing soccer at Corona del Mar High, from which he graduated in 2007.
“To say that I had a dream of playing in the NFL when I was growing up, I would be lying,” Hardison said in a telephone interview from New Mexico, where the Wolf Pack (7-5) will play against Arizona (7-5) in the Gildan New Mexico Bowl Saturday at 10 a.m. “I didn’t expect that [my dream] would be a shot in the NFL. Now that I’m here, I absolutely want it. I’ll do anything it takes.”
Hardison has had that all-out mentality when it comes to football and soccer, mainly football the past three years.
He played club soccer for the Mission Viejo Pateadores up until he was 15. That’s when he switched over to So Cal United, now known as Real So Cal club.
He had several offers from Division I programs after a strong senior season, he said, and credited that to then-CdM coach Pat Callaghan, as well as his club coaches.
Hardison surprised mostly everyone when he decided on UNLV. He admits, the bright lights of Las Vegas drew him in and he became excited to play for the Runnin’ Rebels.
He said he knew a few UNLV football players who told him he should try to become the team’s kicker. He thought it would be fun and would provide a challenge. Hardison is not one to deny a challenge.
Twice he has overcome injuries while playing at Nevada.
At UNLV, he caught the eye of special teams coach Mike Bradeson. For two seasons, Hardison played on the football and soccer teams at UNLV.
Bradeson was let go with the rest of the staff after Hardison’s sophomore season. Bradeson ended up at Nevada, and Hardison later followed.
That wasn’t the only part of his life that changed. Hardison also stopped playing college soccer and focused solely on kicking for the football team.
However, when he arrived at Nevada, he had to sit out one year. It was tough for him in 2010, as the Wolf Pack had a memorable 13-1 season and a No. 13-national ranking led by quarterback Colin Kaepernick, now the starter for the San Francisco 49ers.
“Sitting out was a difficult process,” Hardison said. “That was the year Nevada got up to No. 11 in the country. It was Kap’s last year. To see them play, it was pretty rough on me. That was the first year I never had sports in my life. It was tough, but it was fun to watch those guys.”
Hardison experienced a serious injury for the first time as a junior in 2011. He suffered a hamstring tear and missed four games, toward the end of the regular season.
But he rehabilitated to return for the Hawaii Bowl, when the Wolf Pack lost to Southern Mississippi, 24-17. Hardison connected on a 37-yard field goal and converted both of his point-after attempts.
“It was really special to me to play in a bowl game,” Hardison said. “The bowl games are extremely important for us. It’s an opportunity to bring a trophy back home.”
Hardison took over the place-kicking duties in Nevada’s fourth game of the season at Boise State last year. He ended up making seven of 10 field-goal attempts, with a long of 48 yards against Fresno State. He also made 19 of 19 PATs.
He made three of his three field-goal attempts (29 yards, 41, 22) against UNLV last year, to help Nevada win the rivalry game, 37-0.
This year, Hardison missed two games after he tore his meniscus in his right knee, his kicking leg.
He said he suffered the injury while working out, but continued to play and kick afterward not knowing that the meniscus had torn. He later felt the leg locking up. He was told the meniscus had slipped into a part of the knee that made his leg lock.
He needed surgery and again he had to rehab.
He was motivated to return to finish his senior season. He now wants to end his college career with a victory in a bowl game.
He’s made seven of eight field-goal attempts this season and 50 of 51 PAT attempts.
Hardison said he was completely satisfied that he made the decision to transfer to Nevada and meet new friends in Reno.
He graduated last spring with a degree in marketing. He is now working on his master’s degree in business and administration.
“At the end of the semester I will transfer to a school in Southern California,” Hardison said. “I miss Orange County and Newport Beach. It’s the best place in the world.”
Hardison has been proud to hear about the CdM football team the past two seasons, as the Sea Kings have won consecutive CIF Southern Section Southern Division titles.
Of course, he was excited about CdM’s kicker, too, as Griff Amies tied the state record for most field goals in a season with 22. Hardison said he would enjoy helping Amies if he needed any advice or training.
Amies would be wise to seek Hardison, who has aspirations to play in the NFL.
Hardison has received invitations to compete at NFL special teams combines after the season ends, he said.
He also plans to work with Gary Zauner, a renowned kicking coach who was a special teams coach in the NFL and has worked with kickers Gary Anderson and Sebastian Janikowski among others.
However, he is only thinking about the bowl game on Saturday, he said.
“Since we lost in a bowl game last year, I want this one really bad,” he said.