This Hardee Owns a Papa John's Franchise
There's more, a lot more, to Justin Hardee -- the cornerback/special teams standout -- the Jets have signed as a free agent.
Hardee spent a year pursuing a Papa John's franchise in New Orleans, doing his due diligence and reaching out for advice to the Jets former defensive back Aaron Glenn (among others), who was the Saints' defensive backs coach/ is the Lions' defensive coordinator.
According to SI.com, Glenn told Hardee how to prepare, what to look out for and how long the process could be to become a franchise owner. Hardee said that Glenn is "a very intelligent guy, and someone I look up to."
Hardee also sought advice from one of his Omega Psi Phi fraternity brothers, Malcolm Jenkins. Jenkins, a former teammate in New Orleans, owns 10 Papa John's franchises.
Hardee's mother, Estella Perryman, died at 55 in late 2013 while he was a student at the University of Illinois. His mom, who lived in Cleveland, struggled with lung disease for 15 years.
Hardee was in class when an aunt called and urged him to return home to be with his mom.
"I went to class and got another call from my auntie telling me, 'You need to come home now,'" Hardee told the News-Gazette in Champaign, IL. " 'Your mother needs you.' "He made the six-hour drive home.
"I could hear her in my ear telling me what to do in certain situations and [to] always be positive," he said. "I wanted to come back to school to show people it is positive to go through tough things and still do the right things."
His mom was a driving force behind Hardee's dedication to his education while also playing football. He earned a communications degree in 2017 in fewer than three years.
"That was my mom's most important thing," he said. "She loved to see me on the field, but she always wanted me to bring back great grades and get a degree."
Since graduating from college, Hardee has earned two master's degrees, one in sports management and one in education.
Special Teams Ace
Imagine signing a defensive back who doesn't play much as a defensive back.
The Saints last season allowed just 2.3 yards per punt return – the best in the league – and the second-fewest yards per kick return (17.2). Hardee was integral to those numbers. He had 9 tackles last season with only 1 missed tackle and ranked sixth among all special-teams players with a Pro Football grade of 90.4.
"When you set out goals and really go get em! I knew my way into this league was special teams and I was going to do whatever it took to just show I belong," Hardee wrote recently on Twitter.
You Play Which Position?
Hardee appealed to the Jets largely because of his stellar play on special teams. But he played another position -- in college -- wide receiver. Hardee was not heavily recruited coming out of high school in Cleveland (where his coach was Ted Ginn Sr.).
In 2014, he grabbed a 62-yard TD pass against Western Kentucky.
"He has a lot of talent," offensive coordinator Bill Cubit said at the time. "It's frustrating at times as a coach. Sometimes, you have guys that don't have any talent, so what am I going to do? But you've got a guy like [Hardee] and you're constantly harping, harping, harping. Anyone who comes to practices knows if he's about an inch off, it's not good enough. But he buys in. He comes back for more."
Hardee has played in 56 games and taken 1,220 snaps in the NFL, but 1,105 of the snaps have come on special teams. He has only 115 defensive snaps in his professional career and had one defensive snap last season.
He has 32 total tackles in kick coverage as a pro, the seventh-most special-team tackles in the NFL from 2017-20. Hardee was a part of the New Orleans punt coverage unit that allowed 46 return yards last season, the least in a season since the strike year of 1982, and the 2.3 yards/return was the least in a season since the early 1970s.