The Buffalo Bills and their fans have been welcoming wide receiver Terrell Owens with open arms since he signed with the team last February. His 951 catches for 14,122 yards and 139 touchdowns in 14 seasons make him one of the most notable players in the NFL.
Second-year wide receiver James Hardy has even more reason to welcome Owens to the Bills. Owens has been tutoring Hardy, sometimes for as long as three hours, in T.O.'s dorm room at Bills' training camp at St. John Fisher College.
Hardy is soaking in as much as he can from a veteran like Owens, and Owens is more than willing to share his insight.
"Now that he's here I plan to pick his brain as much as possible," Hardy said. "He said that the way that I am right now is exactly how he was with Jerry Rice 13 years ago (with the San Francisco 49ers). So, I know I'm on the right track and I'm going to keep going."
As a third-round draft pick of the 49ers in 1996, Owens knew he had no reason to feel secure. He can identify with how Hardy, who is trying to establish himself, is feeling.
"You're not promised a spot on the team if you are not first or early second round," Owens said. "For myself, I just had to work hard and gain as much knowledge as I could about playing the receiver position. Coming from a small school (Tennessee-Chattanooga), I was pretty raw, green, and coming out they said I had potential. But I've had to work to the point that I am now. I can see myself in James and what he is doing as far as trying to pick my brain."
Hardy is aware that, along with T.O.'s experience, comes controversy. Hardy has used that aspect of Owens' career as a learning opportunity, in an attempt to avoid those same mistakes. Hardy was humbled to hear Owens say that Hardy shows much of the same traits as he did when he started out. Owens also agrees that Hardy should learn from his mishaps.
Regardless of the superstar status Owens brought when he came to the Bills, Hardy did his best to show respect to him, but not to get caught up in the hype.
"Actually we automatically clicked; I just said, 'Hey,'" Hardy said. "I mean, I wasn't like most guys or most fans who just want to run up to him. I just really gave him his space and his time and I feel everything's about timing, and I just went at the right time to speak to him. He said, 'Whatever you need me to do.' I said, 'Now I'm going to ask you about 20 questions a day.' And he said, 'I'll have 20 answers for you.'"
Hardy has asked questions ranging from training techniques, skills on the field, and situations off the field. He plans to continue this process as the season plays out, knowing he also has veterans such as Lee Evans and Josh Reed to turn to for advice.
Owens has shown thus far that he is ready to teach, and wants to see younger players like Hardy succeed just as he has.
"It is a little bit of everything," Owens said. "It is how to handle certain things. I think I am well suited to answer those things, because I have made some mistakes along the way. Again, I could have done some things or said some things differently earlier in my career. Experience is sometimes your best teacher, and I think he can learn from a guy like myself."
Owens told Hardy that he is on track, that he has "a lot of success coming," and to just be patient.
"All the skills he has developed over his long time in this league, he tries to capture and pass them onto me," Hardy said. "I'm just really glad he's here to share those with me and I will continue to ask him whenever something comes to mind. I'm the student, I'm the listener. I've got my notebook out and I'm writing down what he says so if at any moment his answers leave me, I can go back and reference what I wrote."