SANTA ROSA — Richie Hardwick was told by doctors in the fall of 2016 that his days of playing football were over after he suffered a right foot injury.
Hardwick dislocated a bone, fractured three other bones, and tore a ligament during a nonleague game against Woodcreek-Roseville. The injury happened when Hardwick was running the ball on a quarterback keeper as a senior for Vintage High School on the second play of the second quarter.
“My foot got stuck in the ground and it was twisted,” Hardwick recalled Tuesday. “I just knew something was up, because my foot was numb. I could not move my foot or feel it.”
Hardwick watched the rest of the first half from the sidelines and was taken to the hospital by his parents at halftime. A few days later, he got the news about the severity of his injury.
“It sidelined me for the whole season and it had me distraught, because I had all these hopes and dreams for the season,” he said. “I didn’t know what I was going to do.”
Hardwick later had surgery on his foot. He currently still has a plate and six screws in his foot. He was on crutches. He was in a cast for six weeks and wore a boot for four weeks. He received physical therapy.
“I was told my athletic career was over,” he said. “It was pretty rough.”
But Hardwick had other plans. He was cleared to start running again on Jan. 1, 2017.
“I did a lot of the rehab on my own,” he said. “I know what I’m capable of and what I want to do. I got back on to the field and found out I can still do this.
“I think it’s more of a mental aspect to get through it and know that I’m who I am, and if there’s something I need to do, then I can do it.”
Hardwick, a finalist for Defensive Player of the Year on the 2015 All-Napa County team as a strong safety, was determined to keep playing, so he contacted Santa Rosa Junior College head coach Lenny Wagner.
“I just remember being very impressed with him,” Wagner said at Tuesday’s practice. “His coaches had lots of nice things to say about him. We’ve had a history of getting good, tough, smart players from those programs over there.
“He puts the work in. He’s a grinder. Never misses a day.”
Hardwick, a 2017 Vintage graduate, started about half the games last year as a freshman linebacker for Santa Rosa. This year, he has been a captain through the first six games of the season and starts at strong safety as a sophomore.
Santa Rosa (4-2 overall, 0-1 National-Bay 6 Conference) is No. 15 in this week’s California Community College Sports Information Association poll. The Bear Cubs lost last week to College of San Mateo, 41-9.
Santa Rosa continues its season on Saturday against Chabot-Hayward at 5 p.m. at Santa Rosa High. The Bear Cubs’ stadium is being refurbished and is set to re-open next year.
Chabot (5-1 overall, 1-0 National-Bay 6 Conference) is No. 8 and Santa Rosa is No. 17 in the JC Athletic Bureau’s State Top-25 Poll of California Community College Football Coaches.
Hardwick is among seven Napa Valley players on the Santa Rosa team. The others are Dawson Trent (Napa, freshman, linebacker), Jeremy Costa (Vintage, sophomore, free safety), Brennan Weeks (Napa, sophomore, linebacker), Jesus Ochoa-Hernandez (Vintage, freshman, offensive line), and Pedro Chavez (Napa, freshman, kicker).
Bruno Martinez (Vintage, offensive line) is gray-shirting.
“I think we have a lot of good chemistry, a lot of good guys on the team, and we really bonded throughout spring and summer,” said Hardwick. “We’ve been able to come together.”
Santa Rosa opened the season by losing to Fresno City, 33-21. Hardwick had eight total tackles (seven solo, one assist) and a sack resulting in a nine-yard loss, Trent had three total tackles (two solo, one assist), and Weeks had two total tackles (two solo).
Hardwick had 12 total tackles (seven solo, five assisted) with one tackle for a three-yard loss as Santa Rosa beat Butte-Oroville, 28-23. Trent had four total tackles (one solo, three assisted) and a fumble recovery, and Costa had two assisted stops.
Hardwick had six total tackles (five solo, one assist) for Santa Rosa, helping the Bear Cubs to a 21-10 win over host Shasta College-Redding.
Hardwick returned a fumble six yards for a touchdown and also had seven total tackles to help lead host Santa Rosa to a 37-13 win over College of Sequoias-Visalia. He had five unassisted tackles and also broke up a pass.
Hardwick led Santa Rosa with 15 total tackles, 10 of which were unassisted, as the Bear Cubs beat host Feather River College in Quincy, 49-42, in double overtime. Hardwick had two tackles for loss.
Hardwick is also a standout on special teams. He has blocked two field goal attempts and has a blocked punt.
“He’s been playing very well,” said Wagner. “He’s one of the leaders on our team and one of the leaders in our conference in tackles. He’s been very active on special teams.
“He’s been a guy that is checking off all the boxes in the stat columns. But way more than that, he’s a leader out there. He’s our coach on the field. You can see him on every play getting guys lined up and kind of getting our defense directed in the right way before the ball is snapped.”
Hardwick is counted on as a run stopper and pass defender.
“He’s been phenomenal,” said Wagner. “He’s just done everything we have asked him to do.
Pound for pound, he’s very tough. The guy does everything.”
Hardwick and Costa each had two total tackles for Santa Rosa in last week’s game.
Hardwick prides himself on his communication skills on defense.
“I’m able to help a lot of other teammates get to where they need to be. I have high standards. I’m just doing what I can for this team. I’m having fun,” he said.
“I feel like I’ve put a lot in, whether it’s film or studying our playbook, and really knowing who’s going to be where and when they’re going to be there and just being confident.”
Returning from injury
Hardwick remained very close to the Vintage team and program after being injured.
“I made the most of my experience at the time for the three games that I did get to play in,” he said.
He is thankful and appreciative for all the support he received from Vintage head coach Dylan Leach on returning to the game.
“Coach Leach was there for me the whole time. He was able to be there for me, if I needed anybody to talk to. He’s a great guy.”