Harrison graduate Kevin Hardy on College Football Hall of Fame ballot
When Kevin Hardy was honored at the Harrison High School athletic banquet years ago, he told his mom to get up. She received a standing ovation.
Kevin thanked his mother, Imelda, and father, Herbert, for their tremendous support over the years. But he lost her to cancer last December at the age of 72.
“My mother was as supportive as she could be, of myself and my brother (Brian) and my sister (Carla Hardy Milton),” said Kevin, who appears on the College Football Hall of Fame ballot. Fame 2023 organized by the National Football Foundation. He was also on the ballot in 2019 but didn’t make the room
The announcement of the new Hall of Fame class will be made early next year; the group will be officially inducted on December 5, 2023 in Atlanta.
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Kevin noted that his mom and dad would go to virtually every one of his University of Illinois football games, home and away.
“They were coming to Minnesota to see me play football,” said Kevin, the winner of the 1995 Butkus Award, given annually to the nation’s best linebacker and named after another outstanding Illini player. “I received tremendous support. I wouldn’t be who I am or where I am today without her. She was with me until the end. It was the same with her grandchildren.”
Imelda was a teacher at Howard Roosa Elementary School, which closed in 2011. Kevin established the Imelda Hardy Memorial Scholarship Fund in her honor. Herbert, 73, worked at Expressway Dodge for several years.
Kevin’s success in college and in the NFL was no accident. He was an integral part of an incredible string of talented athletes at Harrison from the late 1980s through the late 1990s. Hardy said they spurred each other on to greatness.
Calbert Cheaney, a 1989 Harrison graduate, was inducted into the College Basketball Hall of Fame in 2019. Playing for Indiana University, Cheaney was named National Consensus Player of the Year in 1993. He spent 13 years in the NBA and is currently an Indiana Pacers Assistant.
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Hardy, 48, graduated from Harrison in 1991 before spending nine seasons in the NFL, earning first-team All-Pro honors while playing for the Jacksonville Jaguars in 1999. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame of Illinois Athletics in 2021.
Other notable Harrison athletes from this period include Walter McCarty, a member of Kentucky’s 1996 NCAA championship basketball team who played 10 years in the NBA. He coached the University of Evansville in 2018 before being fired on January 21, 2020 for alleged inappropriate behavior. Lawsuits are ongoing. Sean Bennett was a running back for the New York Giants from 1999 to 2002, the New York Jets in 2003 and the professional indoor team the Evansville BlueCats from 2004 to 2006.
“We definitely had special athletes in Harrison in my time there,” Hardy said. “Some of these guys are the reason I was able to reach the highest level.”
When you’re young, you don’t plan for the things that will eventually happen, he said.
“Calbert was the Big Ten (career) leading scorer (with 2,613 points),” Hardy said. “He was the No. 6 pick in the NBA draft and I was the No. 2 pick in the NFL draft and the winner of the Butkus award. Walter McCarty, Chris Lowery… so many guys have had success all over the We had a group of competitive guys.
Lowery started for two NCAA basketball tournament teams in Southern Illinois and guided the Salukis to the Sweet Sixteen in 2007 as head coach. He is currently an assistant at Missouri State.
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A sophomore at Harrison when Cheaney was a senior, Hardy would often babysit him at basketball practice. He was called upon to replace him when Cheaney broke his foot against Terre Haute South at the end of his senior season, ending Harrison’s dream of a deep playoff run.
“I had to keep Tony McGee, who then played football for Michigan and several years in the NFL,” Hardy said. “Ironically, I was Calbert’s backup, not offensively but more defensively.”