Former NFL center Nick Hardwick spent 11 seasons with the Chargers. He played his collegiate career at Purdue, where he earned all-Big Ten honors. He was selected to the 2006 Pro Bowl and the San Diego Chargers 50th Anniversary Team. We caught up with Nick and he gave us insight into his life during and after football.
How would you describe your experience leaving the game?
It was rough. I think I underestimated the transition, and it was quite challenging. Immediately upon retiring, I had a job within two weeks. At my retirement press conference I said what I was going to be getting into immediately thereafter, and it was a DJ at one of the local classic rock channels. And two months into that gig, I remember on a Saturday calling my co-host and calling my then-boss and saying, I’m not going to be coming in Monday and I’m not going to be coming in any day thereafter. I mean, immediately it just hit me right in the face, I don’t know if this is what I want to be doing. I felt lost, I felt scared, and I had no direction. Essentially what it had all boiled down to was I had lost my identity that I had been carrying around with me for the last 14 years, starting with college football for 3 years then 11 years in the National Football League. As much as I tried to fight the “football player” as my identity, I wanted and I said all the time “I’m Nick Hardwick and I play football, it’s not who I am.” But as much as I tried that to be the reality, the real reality was that I’m Nick Hardwick the football player. And when that identity was stripped from me, I had to find what stokes me on a daily basis, what was going to get me out of bed, what was going to give me direction. I think the beautiful thing about football, and any career for that matter, is that it’s a really easy decision-making portal that you operate within. In football in particular, it’s “Is this going to help me become a better player, does this make me become a better teammate, is this overall going to help our team move in the right direction.” And if the answer was yes you did it, if the answer was no you didn’t do it, and those were really simple decisions, just by defining that decision-making process. And when you retire after 11 years, you’re 33 years old, you’ve got enough money to do nothing but you know that doing nothing is not going to be at all constructive for you, and you’ve got the world of opportunities to choose from, but it was almost overbearing with how many choices and how many directions you could go in, and I had no decision-making portal. So I’m super thankful that the radio opportunity came back to me. I quit the DJ gig, but the radio station called back and said, “We know that’s not what you want to do, but would you want to come back and try being a field reporter for the Chargers, kind of get your feet wet?” And I said yes and fell in love with it. The next year I got promoted up to the booth and became the color analyst. I followed the team up to Los Angeles for a year, and then I kind of found another direction in life and I’ve been whisked away on that. Being a dad, owning gyms, I’ve hosted a sports talk radio show that I’m pulling back from a little bit so that I can talk more about some things that I want to on a podcast that we’re launching as we speak to be able to align myself with what I call my Four Pillars. It allows me to work in the space that I want to work in, rather than what the construct of the radio station allows.
What are you most proud of during your time as a player rep?
I think the time with all of the guys who really cared about their careers and the National Football League at the annual Board of Reps meetings, those were some of the most memorable times, not only with the union but of my time in the National Football League. And I think the thing that I really learned through those sessions and through being a player rep is that you have to take charge of your own situation. All of the guys there at the rep meeting really had their stuff together, and they had another career in mind for when they were going to be moving on from the National Football League. They were mindful of their money because they understood historically how the NFL operated, and once you were done you were done and you were left to your own devices. Everybody at those, to me that should be a fundamental requirement for all players in the National Football League. That’s when I started thinking about personal finance, about continuing education, when I started thinking about marriage and family and how to settle down, how to become a professional, how to treat this as a career and not just as something really awesome that I get to do while I’m young and it’s fun. It became a career at that point, when I understood how everyone else was understanding their business.
How has being a player rep impacted you personally & professionally?
The most important thing was being responsible for your own actions, and understanding how finite your time in the National Football League is going to be. It’s funny because you come into the game as a football player and feel like you can accomplish anything, but some of the lessons that you learn through the union and through the Players Association are that you’re mortal. This is going to come and go, injuries are going to start stacking up on you, and you are going to be ushered out of the league. So you’ve got to be really mindful of how you take care of it. Just being in the room with the guys who understood that concept and passed that down to the younger generation, and who were almost philanthropic with their knowledge to the younger players as I was coming in. I think it was my third year or second year in the National Football League when I became a player rep, having a mentor and guys telling me, “You need to start coming to these meetings.” And I thought at first “Oh this is going to be a fantastic trip to Hawaii,” and I certainly enjoyed that experience, but I got more out the sessions than I got out of the vacation. Those stuck with me, and I did my best to pass down that knowledge we gained through those meetings to some of the younger generation. And that’s that word-of-mouth, grassroots movement of players who are managing their careers.
What advice would you give to yourself looking back?
Continue to educate yourself. Find what stokes you in the off-season when you’ve got the time and go get credentialed, go get your degree, go do an internship somewhere. Use that opportunity in the off-season, yes to train, to get your body right, to heal, to restore, to grow, whatever needs to be done from the physical standpoint. But from the mental standpoint, that’s a great opportunity to go get better at something you’re not necessarily good at. One thing I did during my career was I knew that I wanted to be captain of the football team at one point, but I was terrified of public speaking. So in the off-season I went to Toast Masters and worked on public speaking. Go find out what you do or don’t want to do by trying things that you don’t know about or that you may have interest in. Try out the real estate game, do the business and entrepreneurial classes that the NFL and NFLPA offer, use all the opportunities that are thrown in your face that are often time just dismissed. You have an abundance of free time that, in the real world, and after being a working guy now for four going on five year after leaving the NFL, you don’t have that extended free time and liberty. So use it while you have it to put yourself in a really good position to launch off from your career immediately into something else, and that will help soften the blow of the transition.
Have you taken advantage of any of the services of the PA since retirement?
I have the Brain and Body Assessment up at Orange County and Newport Beach. I highly encourage everybody to do that. Just having the baseline information of where you’re at so you can to track your progress as you’re moving along. But as I was going through, I went to the Wharton School of Business, which was an awesome program, another one that challenges the way you think. I’ve considered multiple times having the AthLife and Trust program pay for some sort of continuing education, but I want to be sure it’s meaningful in the direction that I’m sure I’m heading, and currently I’m still paring that down, getting rid of the things I know I don’t want to be before I figure out ultimately what I do want to be, and I’m getting really close to that moment. So that will be the next service that I use, the scholarship.
I’m really looking forward to getting this podcast going. It’s going to be called “Finding Center with Nick Hardwick.” The idea behind it is helping other people discover their pillars. Mine are family, fitness, food, and of course a little bit of football. It’s just helping other people through the discussions and conversations that we have to discover their own health, their mental health, their physical health, their family health, and get them started on their journey, to help them change the way they view the world, the way they view their life, how they operate on a daily basis, and hopefully it’s all for a more positive, healthful experience.
Tags Former Players