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By Randy York
Thursday afternoon, the commercial flight that carried 6-7, 320-pound Yoshi Hardrick landed at Tampa International Airport at 1 o’clock. Seventeen minutes later, another airline carrying 6-1, 225-pound Lavonte David touched down at the same airport. Within minutes, two close friends who were teammates at Fort Scott (Kan.) Community College and the University of Nebraska were together again, heading to Raymond James Stadium, the current home of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Former Huskers Carl Nicks and Larry Asante are already Buccaneers, and David and Hardrick are eager to join them.
David’s chances of making the team are sky-high. Nebraska’s first-team All-America linebacker is Tampa Bay’s second-round draft choice and gets effusive praise and sweeping endorsements from the likes of ESPN analysts John Gruden and Mel Kiper. David is so confident, in fact, that he’s been vocal about touting Hardrick, who hopes to make enough of an impression at this weekend’s three-day rookie camp to warrant a free-agent contract. Make no mistake. All four ex-Huskers want to play in a stadium with a 103-foot, 43-ton, steel-and-concrete pirate ship that fires soft-rubber footballs and confetti every time the Bucs score or enter the other team’s red zone.
Of the four, Hardrick is the definitive longshot, but in times of trouble, he’s a got a friend in David. “We went to junior college together; we went to college together; now we want to play pro football together,” Hardrick said. “Basically, this all comes down to having a friend and a buddy there and having a chance to live another dream together. It’s always been a dream of mine to play pro football with Lavonte. Right after Tampa drafted him, he told me he was going to do everything he could to get me drafted, too.” It didn’t happen, but the next best thing did. Tampa Bay was the first of eight NFL teams to contact Hardrick after the draft, and Yoshi liked what they were telling him. “They told me if I come in and play Nebraska football, I have a good chance to make the team,” he said. “I have a lot of options, so I’m taking them at their word and give them everything I have in me.”
Yoshi hopes to seize his opportunity the same way David capitalized on his at Nebraska. “Lavonte’s always wanted to help me the way I helped him,” Hardrick said. “I got him here to Nebraska, and now he’s helping me get my chance there in Tampa. Lavonte didn’t have the opportunity to come to Lincoln until I spoke up. I said the only way I was coming to Nebraska was if I could bring Lavonte with me. I was committed to LSU for a year and said the same thing to them. Nebraska finally offered Lavonte, and we came here together, two best friends living a dream. Coming to Tampa is like starting over again together. We rode to Nebraska together, and flying into Tampa seems like our first day of college again. The only difference is, this time he recruited me instead of the other way around. I would give any team the best I got in me, but getting a chance to play with Lavonte again … that’s so special for both of us … I’m going to control everything I can control, so two best friends can live their dream together one more time.”
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