FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WANE) – People across the area are mourning the loss of Fort Wayne sports star and former NFL player James Hardy. His body was pulled from the Maumee River Wednesday afternoon. According to police his family reported him missing May 30.
Hardy was a well-known name in sports around Fort Wayne. He was a basketball and football standout at Elmhurst High School before graduating in 2004.
He went on to be a wide receiver at Indiana University before being drafted to the Buffalo Bills in 2008. Hardy also played for the Ravens but injuries cut his career short. He was released in 2011.
Hardy’s longtime friends and former teammates were shocked to learn his fate. They said instead of focusing on the tragic way his life ended they want to remember the good times.
“We were like brothers,” said Brandon Stuckey. “You didn’t see one without the other. He motivated me to do something and be something. To elevate my game and just have confidence in life.”
Brandon Stuckey said he met Hardy in middle school. They went on to play football and basketball together for Elmhurst High School before Hardy hit the big time. Stuckey said he was in attendance for Hardy’s first NFL game.
“They called his name and he ran out of the tunnel and he looked over at me and pointed at me and it just felt unreal,” he said. “He was strong-willed. He knew what he wanted to do. He just always knew that was what he wanted.”
Sanders Tucker played football at Elmhurst high school with Hardy and Stuckey. Tucker said despite Hardy’s fame, he never lost contact with those closest to him.
“I was one phone call away from him whenever he needed to talk to me and vice versa,” said Tucker. “He was somebody I consider my best friend. More like a brother.”
After being cut from the NFL, Hardy’s life was seemingly off track. Hardy got in some trouble with the law and kept a low profile in recent years. Just three weeks ago, Hardy talked with Tucker and said he was ready to make a change.
“When I talked to him, his spirits were up,” said Tucker. “He was talking about getting back to his old self before all the fame. He just wanted to get his body and his mind back right so he could proceed with his life.”
Stuckey said he and Hardy have children around the same age. The two hoped one day their kids would share a bond similar to their own.
“We always talked about how they were going to play on the same team like we did growing up,” he said.
Stuckey and Tucker are left to cherish the memories of Hardy. A man, they say, will always be remembered by Hoosiers as an outstanding basketball player and football player. However those close to him said he was an even better person.