His first season in the NFL was already not going according to plan come the final month of the regular season. A limited amount of playing time coupled with adjusting to the NFL game left James Hardy more determined than ever to make a difference.
An example of that determination was on display in Week 15 when the receiver ran clear across the field to block for Marshawn Lynch, who had burst into the secondary on a run play against the Jets. But when a lineman bowled over a defender behind Hardy, that player barreled into Hardy's knee tearing his ACL. Hardy's rookie season was over three weeks early.
"It was difficult at first, but through my faith I looked at it as another obstacle that I had to go through," said Hardy. "At first I was asking questions like, 'Why this?' I never put myself in that type of position because I've never had that type of injury before. The trainers initially didn't want to tell me what happened, but later the doctors told me it was my ACL. But by then I had enough time to sit and pray and think about what I would have to go through. So by the time the doctor came back and talked to me, I was fine."
Fine is also how Hardy is feeling now after successful surgery nine days ago on Jan. 12.
"The surgery went perfect so I'm happy about that," he said. "Everything has been going well. I had pain at night time in the first four days. But for the most part I've been a lot better later. I've been doing the treatment for about three and half hours every day so it continues to get better."
Hardy has already mentally committed himself to what lies ahead with respect to rehab, which typically takes six to nine months before a player is again football ready. The wideout has not set any timetable for himself, choosing instead to leave that up to the trainers.
"When I'm ready I'll be out there," he said.
For Hardy the expectations were high in 2008. Desperate for a big target in the passing game, the Indiana product seemed to be the perfect answer for a needed mismatch in the red zone for Buffalo's offense. It appeared the staff was ready to maximize that advantage after Hardy pulled in a game-winning touchdown pass against Jacksonville in Week 2. But the on-field opportunities waned from there and by season's end Hardy had all of nine receptions for 87 yards and a pair of scores.
"How I felt coming in and how I felt I was going to perform and contribute to the team was at a sky high level," Hardy said. "I was very confident with what I wanted to accomplish my rookie year. But coming in as a young professional sometimes you have to sit back and watch before being thrust into the situation because it is a different game. Josh Reed and Lee Evans would talk to me about that and told me basically I have to wait my turn."
Despite being frustrated with the situation, Hardy redoubled his efforts in practice, the meetings rooms and with film study, eager to prove he could make an impact. Though the reward of more playing time didn't materialize, Hardy feels he's become a better player as a result.
"I felt I matured mentally. It just wasn't able to show on the field," he said. "I learned that things are not going to just happen the way that you want it to happen. I'm proud I was able to have more patience with everything."
And now Hardy will need to have more patience than ever with the lengthy rehab that lies before him. But the receiver is ready to travel the long road back, thanks in part to another Bills receiver that went through the same injury.
Lee Evans suffered a torn ACL in the spring leading up to his senior season at Wisconsin. By September his knee wasn't coming around, and a second surgery was performed. After sitting out a year on a medical hardship, Evans regained his form becoming Buffalo's top pick in 2004.
"Lee has been to my house four times since this happened," said Hardy. "Right after it happened he came up to me and said, 'Listen, this is not what you think it's going to be. I came back from it.' He actually came back from it twice and he told me, 'It's within you. As long as you're right mentally you'll be fine.'"
Always positive, Hardy chooses not to lament all the time he'll miss on the field this spring and summer in OTAs and minicamp to hone his receiver skills. Instead he's squarely focused on getting his knee right again.
"I'm here in Buffalo," said Hardy. "Besides my son who comes up and visits me often this is number one for me. So I'm here the whole time."
And while some outside observers might think this is a major setback for a developing NFL receiver, Hardy is undaunted.
"Now that this happened some might feel it's like a disaster, but at the same time it happened for a reason," Hardy said. "I will bounce back and my dreams will come true with the Buffalo Bills."