Hulking offensive linemen find unique way to celebrate during Bombers' surge

WINNIPEG — When Jermarcus Hardrick first jumped into the home crowd after a Blue Bombers' touchdown, it caught some fans by surprise.

"I scared some little kids over here," the six-foot-five, 314-pound offensive right tackle said after Wednesday's practice while pointing to the end-zone stands.

Home fans might see a lot more of the celebration, which has been coined the "Hardrick Hop." Winnipeg (8-4) is on a seven-game winning streak, and the play of the offensive line is one of the reasons for the Blue Bombers' dramatic turnaround this season.

In Winnipeg's first five games, former starting quarterback Drew Willy was sacked 14 times and backup Matt Nichols twice. The team went 1-4. Since Nichols became the starter at the beginning of the win streak, he's only been hauled down nine times in the seven games.

"(Nichols) may process some of the information a little quicker," Bombers offensive line coach Bob Wylie said when asked for a reason for the improvement. "That's about all I can give you. (Nichols and the O-line) work well together."

Winnipeg takes its seven-game win streak into Calgary on Saturday to play the Stampeders (10-1-1), a foe that has won nine straight. The CFL announced the game is between two teams with the longest combined winning streak in the history of the league.

Hardrick has been clearly enjoying the ride, debuting the Hardrick Hop during Winnipeg's victory over arch-rival Saskatchewan on Sept. 10.

"It was against my old team Sask, it was the Banjo Bowl, it was a big week, we were sold out," Hardrick said. "I wanted to let the crowd know we appreciated everything through the thick and thin.

"I went up there (into the crowd) and told them I loved the guys."

Left tackle Stanley Bryant liked Hardrick's enthusiasm from the get-go.

"I was surprised he got up there," Bryant said with a smile. "We were just told to go celebrate with the fans the first game and I looked over and he was up there.

"I was like, 'How the hell did he get up there?'"

For Winnipeg's home game last weekend against Toronto, all the offensive linemen joined in for the jump, a total of 1,591 pounds between Hardrick, Bryant, centre Matthais Goossen, left guard Travis Bond and right guard Sukh Chungh.

Nichols was also invited to leap, although he was a late-comer because he'd just plunged in for a one-yard touchdown early in the fourth quarter to give Winnipeg a 42-29 lead in what ended up as a 46-29 victory.

The Hardrick Hop will only be performed when the team scores a TD in what they know will be a win, Hardrick explained, adding he may even change it up.

"We're probably going to try a couple different ideas," said the third-year CFLer, who hails from Mississippi. "We'll try to throw some guys up there or put guys on shoulders. We're going to keep letting fans know we love them."

Wylie said his charges surprised him, but he was laughing and appreciated their passion for fans, as long as they celebrate with their teammates first.

He also likes the effort and progression the unit is making.

"Everybody wants it to happen too fast in the sport," Wylie said. "Where I come from, you've got to get five guys to play with one heartbeat, which is tough."

The Bombers next home game is Sept. 30 against Edmonton, another opportunity for Hardrick's take on the "Lambeau Leap" made famous by former Green Bay Packers safety LeRoy Butler, who scored a TD at Lambeau Field in 1993 and celebrated by jumping into the arms of fans in the first row of the end zone.

Bryant, who tips the scales at 306 pounds, said fans gave him a boost up and the unit probably needs to improve its leaping skills.

"My family and friends are giving me a tough time about that," he said with a chuckle. "I was just trying to get onto the top part (of the wall) and pull myself up."