PARKERSBURG - The list is long and includes names like 2008 NFL Defensive Player of the Year James Harrison as well as Super Bowl and two-time league MVP Kurt Warner, but they all took the same road to the big time - earning their way as an undrafted free agent.
While the light isn't glowing superstar bright on Tampa Bay Buccaneers rookie offensive tackle Derek Hardman, the former Roane County standout and FCS first team Associated Press All-American at Eastern Kentucky definitely has his foot in the door.
Inked to a contract by Tampa Bay to play for head coach Raheem Morris, Hardman has been working hard to show his prowess on the gridiron since the end of April.
Photo courtesy Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Former Roane County High School and Eastern Kentucky All-American tackle Derek Hardman, left, pass blocks for quarterback Josh Johnson during a Tampa Bay workout earlier this month.
Just this week the Buccaneers ended minicamp and before that it was three weeks of OTAs - organized team activities.
"Now, the rookies are going to stay around Tampa for about two and a half weeks of workouts and conditioning with the strength coach and then there will be about a two week break before camp starts," Hardman said.
Ever since he was donning the maroon and silver of the Raiders back in high school, Hardman always had a dream of making it to the NFL. After a successful career at EKU where he currently stands four classes short of finishing his master's in business administration, the Priority Sports client savors each day he's on the roster.
"There was a small chance I would get drafted in the late rounds, but it just never happened," said Hardman, who married high school sweetheart Brittany Mace back in January. "A lot of people say the NFL is a business and it's true.
"People who came in with me, free agents, have been cut and I'm blessed to still be here. I'm trying to make sure I get an invite back to August camp. Right now everything is good and I'm hoping it stays that way."
Hardman said the Bucs have been practicing just a couple blocks from Raymond James Stadium.
"It's a beautiful facility," he said. "They have three grass fields and it's nothing like I've seen. They remind me of golf course greens out there.
"It's a pleasure to go out there every day. It just reminds you you're at the next level and motivates you to have a good day."
As with any free agent signee, Hardman knows he can't afford to ever take plays off or have any letdown moments. In the business which is the NFL, there's always someone trying to take your job.
When asked if he's had to go through any rookie moments as far as the veterans empowering their will on the youngsters, Hardman said not yet.
"The first few days you may get the cold shoulders from the vets because they don't know you," Hardman said.
"Maybe that happens during camp. I hope I get to experience that. Actually, they are helpful and everyone is nice and gets along real well."
With a long way still to go in his quest to make a living as a lineman in the NFL the rookie tackle tries to keep things in perspective.
He knows he'll always have his education to fall back on no matter where his football career leads. He also understands he's representing not only his family and friends back home, but also his extended family members from being a part of head coach Dean Hood's Colonels at EKU.
"Obviously, coming back to camp," is what Hardman said would be his biggest obstacle. "You have to be ready mentally and physically. It's a different level and a big challenge to know every play and know every defensive scheme.
"It's a constant battle and you don't take anything for granted. Whether it's a good or bad day out there I keep the perspective you're out there trying your best to make a living doing something you love."