When Justin Hardee brought home a ninth grade report card with A’s, he expected the same rewards he knew other high achievers were receiving.
Maybe some cool new sneakers?
Instead, Estella Perryman looked at the notes and told her son, “Go clean up.” With those three words, Perryman set the bar for Hardee to always strive to do better, no matter how successful he was in school, as a business owner, or in the course of his life. an NFL career that led to the founding of the Jets’ special teams.
“At that point in my life, I didn’t get it,” the 28-year-old cornerback told The Post after practice Friday. “Once I understood, I feel like it affected the way I live my life.”
Perryman died of a lung disease at age 55, about a week before Christmas 2013. At the time, Hardee was a lightly drafted sophomore away from the NFL’s radar and dependent on a “strong support system”. best friends and family to survive.
“I was on the road to recruit and he called me and said, ‘Coach, I just lost the most important person in my life. My mother passed away five minutes ago,'” recalls former Illinois assistant coach Bill Cubit “I called him every hour that day to make sure he was okay. He’s one of the most special kids I’ve ever had.” never put yourself first.
But Hardee put himself in a position to succeed. Several times.
Hardee earned three degrees at Illinois — a bachelor’s degree in communications, a master’s degree in sports management and a second master’s degree in education — and left the Saints’ practice squad as an undrafted freshman. Over the next five seasons, the Cleveland native changed his official position from wide receiver to cornerback and earned a reputation as one of the best non-kick or running back special teams in the NFL. .
“Every big decision, the way I push myself through everything, I dedicate everything to my mom,” Hardee said. “She showed me how to work hard. Of course, I miss her, but I know that she is with me every day. To see where I am, after the neighborhood I’m from, she’s definitely proud.
Here’s an example: When Hardee couldn’t get a sponsorship deal with one of the big sportswear brands to keep paychecks going during the NFL offseason because he wasn’t a name big enough, he took matters into his own hands.
After seeking advice from financial adviser Malcolm Jenkins, then a Saints teammate and small business owner, and Aaron Glenn, a former Jets star and Saints assistant coach, Hardee bought a Papa John’s franchise in New Orleans. – where there used to be discounted pizza and breadsticks. combo item with his name on the menu to benefit charity – and grew to buy another one in Mississippi.
“I’m sitting here with three degrees and I’m so much more,” Hardee recalled thinking. “You have to make the most of every opportunity while you’re in the NFL. I’m trying to build generational wealth – something my family doesn’t know – so that one day my son and grandchildren can have it.
The Jets signed Hardee to a three-year, $5.2 million deal and his teammates named him captain last season. Their kickoff return, punt return, kickoff coverage and number of opposing punts ranked among the top five in the league, and both offense and defense were improved during the off-season.
“We control our own destiny,” Hardee said. “If we work together, I feel like we’re going to surprise a lot of people.”
Head Coach Robert Saleh brought an “All Gas, No Brake” slogan with him to the Jets. If he ever needs a poster artist, he knows where to look.
“Justin is the epitome of ‘All Gas’ in the way he strives and the words that come out of his mouth,” Saleh said. “Any young man who comes into this league and tries to find his calling doesn’t have to look any further than him. He’s one of those you cheer for because he’s doing it the right way.
By playing for the name on the front of the jersey, the name on the back and the name in his heart. Hardee has worn a necklace holding his mother’s photo for years.
“It’s about wanting,” Hardee said. “I represent someone every Sunday, and when you represent someone, you play differently. I’m going to give her everything I have for her.
New York Post