KiAnte Hardin ready to compete in today’s NFLPA Collegiate Bowl

KiAnte Hardin (left) speaks with NFLPA Bowl American team special teams assistant coach Cameron Davis during a practice for the NFLPA Bowl on Thursday.

PASADENA, Calif. — KiAnte Hardin is competitive by nature.

That’s why he was disappointed Thursday when a tight hamstring forced him to leave Spieker Field at the Rose Bowl early in the final practice before today’s NFLPA Collegiate Bowl (NFL Network, 6 p.m.).

“As a competitor, you always want to compete,” Hardin said after Friday’s walkthrough at the Rose Bowl. “But I want to be able play Saturday when it matters.”

Hardin received the invitation to the NFLPA Bowl after a college career that saw him record eight interceptions – including four last season. Hardin, who doubles as a return specialist, already knew he could compete with Power 5 programs after beginning his college career at Minnesota. But following his expulsion, the Webb City native transferred to Pittsburg State in 2017.

The NFLPA Bowl is another opportunity to prove he belongs in the 2020 NFL Draft class.

“It’s been a good week. I like playing against good competition,” Hardin said. “It’s a good experience being with other elite guys competing.

“I’m a perfectionist and really hard on myself,” Hardin added. “I want to be perfect. I came out here to compete and I think I did pretty well.

“It’s fun competing.”

Hardin’s play has stood out to his new teammates on the American team led by former Cleveland Browns coach Hue Jackson. Albany receiver Juwan Green cited Hardin as the best corner he faced in Pasadena.

“He’s done a good job and competed well in the nickel spot,” said Rob Everett, one of the American team secondary coaches. “He’s brought some good energy.”

The other secondary coach is former Browns cornerback Daylon McCutcheon. The defensive coordinator on Jackson’s staff is former Dallas Cowboys corner Dennis Thurman. Hardin said he’s learned more than he thought he would from the former players.

“You wouldn’t think being a fifth-year senior, you’d learn a lot. You think you know a lot of football, but within 30 minutes on the first day, I was learning new stuff and how to look at things differently,” Hardin said. “I played more outside corner in college, but now playing nickel, it gives me a new perspective and better understanding of where I have help on defense. I have more knowledge about the defensive line and what they’re doing and how to use that to my advantage.

“Getting that insight is big.”

Hardin hopes to follow in the footsteps of former Pittsburg State receiver John Brown, who was a third-round pick of the Arizona Cardinals in 2014 and now plays for the Buffalo Bills. While he certainly understands how difficult it is to make an NFL roster, he hopes he could line up one day against Brown.

“That’d be an interesting matchup,” Hardin said. “I’ve heard good things about him.”

Is Hardin fast enough to cover the lightning-quick Brown?

“I think so, yeah,” he said with a laugh. “You’ve got to be confident at this position.”

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