When Daniel Hardy crossed paths with Indianapolis Colts tight end Dallas Clark at the NFL scouting combine in Indianapolis in February, he didn't know what to say.
"I don't want to say I was star-struck," said Hardy. "I just nodded my head and said hello."
The 2006 West High graduate also exchanged hellos with Auburn quarterback Cam Newton before getting on an elevator in Lucas Oil Stadium, where he then greeted Jake Locker, the star quarterback from the University of Washington.
"I'm a fan. It's a really surreal experience," he said. "I'm pretty sure I was the only guy from Alaska there."
But Hardy wasn't at the combine to get autographs. The 6-foot-4, 250-pound tight end from the University of Idaho was there to compete -- and, hopefully, to impress scouts enough to be selected in this week's NFL draft.
A minor hip injury prevented Hardy, 23, from competing in speed and agility drills, but he bench pressed 225 pounds 18 times -- Michigan State's Charlie Gantt did 27 reps to top the tight ends -- performed some pass-catching exercises and completed numerous interviews with coaches.
"I honestly felt like every interview went well," said Hardy, who graduated in December with a bachelor's degree in communications.
Hardy described the interview process as a kind of round-robin format, with assistant coaches from NFL teams stationed at tables and a horn blowing every 10 minutes to signal players to stop their current interview and move to another coach.
"That was definitely a mentally draining part of the process," said Hardy. "Just being yourself and being honest is the most important thing."
Perhaps the most important thing for scouts and coaches is a player's game film, Hardy said. Some players dominate tests at the combine but don't turn out to be the best football players.
"The film doesn't lie," Hardy said.
The best statistical performance Hardy put on tape from his final season at Idaho was his seven-catch, 114-yard effort against Louisiana Tech in October. He played two more games before breaking his left arm during a November practice and missed the last five games of the season. Before the injury, Hardy led the Vandals in receiving with 32 catches for 545 yards.
"At the time I was having a really good season," said Hardy. "I was leading the nation in receiving yards for a tight end."
Hardy tried to stay in shape while injured, but doing pushups with one arm in a cast wasn't the same as hitting the weight room. He said the five-week healing period cost him some strength and took away valuable chances to get noticed by scouts.
"It kind of set me back as far as being on the radar," he said. "I was blessed to still get an invite to the combine."
Hardy was a semifinalist for the Mackey Award, given to the top tight end in Division I college football, and he is respectably ranked by various publications. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution ranks him eighth among tight end prospects, the Dallas Morning News ranks him 11th, the Chicago Tribune ranks him 17th and Football Reporters Online ranks him 20th.
If drafted, Hardy will most likely be picked toward the end of the seven-round draft that runs Thursday through Saturday, but he said he isn't making any predictions.
"I want to let everything play out as it may," he said.
Hardy became a tight end at Idaho, where he began his college career in 2006 as a walk-on after having played just two seasons of high school football.
He chose Idaho because it was the only Division I school to invite him to try out. He enrolled without visiting the campus, made the team, spent a year as a redshirt and earned a scholarship after the first season he played.
The Vandals, who joined the Western Athletic Conference in 2005, were coming off four straight seasons with three or fewer wins when Hardy joined the team. They won seven games during Hardy's first three seasons with the program, but in 2009 they finished with an 8-5 record and beat Bowling Green in the Humanitarian Bowl.
"Just to be a small part of that will be something I'll cherish forever," said Hardy.
A late bloomer as a football player, Hardy was a talented basketball and soccer player in his youth who didn't start playing football until his junior year of high school. He played wide receiver and free safety at West, where he was also a punt returner, kick returner and kicker in his senior season.
When he arrived at Idaho, Hardy weighed 190 pounds. By the end of his second season, he weighed about 215. That's when he was moved from receiver to tight end.
He credits dedication to the weight room and a 4,000-calories-a-day diet for boosting his weight 60 pounds in the last five years. A typical breakfast includes five eggs, two slices of toast and a protein shake.
"You have to eat almost abnormally," Hardy said. "Eat when you're full, basically, just to put back all the calories you burn."
Hardy said some NFL teams prefer bigger tight ends, but most are looking for someone his size.
If he isn't drafted, Hardy will pursue an NFL career through free agency, something that will be challenging until the NFL lockout is resolved. Free agents are not legally allowed to make contact with NFL teams until the lockout is over, he said. Drafted players can maintain communication with their team but cannot use the team facilities.
"Everybody is kind of in limbo," he said.
When draft day arrives, Hardy said he plans to be in Cincinnati with his agent, keeping a low profile and hoping to join three other Alaskans in the NFL -- Daryn Colledge of the Green Bay Packers, Zackary Bowman of the Chicago Bears and Chris Kuper of the Denver Broncos. Hardy's been a San Francisco 49ers fan since childhood, but he won't be picky about which team picks him.
"No matter where I go, I'm going to do whatever they ask me," he said. "If they want me to play linebacker, I will."
Reach Jeremy Peters at email@example.com or 257-4335.
By JEREMY PETERS