When he was a McDonald’s employee in West Virginia during his early college days, Arizona Cardinals linebacker Dennis Gardeck remembers wanting to work with the grill crew in the back so he wouldn’t have to speak with customers.
He took on that job as a “jack-of-all-trades” contributor willing to help in any way possible, just as he does as a core member of Arizona’s special teams unit — often not noticed by many people outside the locker room.
Inside Cardinals headquarters, he has certainly earned the respect of his peers.
Gardeck’s relentlessness on the football field gets him noticed despite his quiet nature, which is why on Wednesday the Cardinals announced he’d been voted by teammates as the special teams captain.
“Took me a little bit by surprise,” Gardeck said. “I’m not a very big vocal guy. Somehow whenever I try to inspire or do anything, it gets all jumbled up and I end up getting made fun of more than I … end up firing the team up. I just try to play my brand of football, which is fast and physical. Apparently the guys on the team have noticed that.”
Cardinals head coach Kliff Kingsbury definitely noticed that relentless motor, maybe not for the best of reasons.
Talking about Gardeck’s captainship Wednesday, Kingsbury said the linebacker’s intensity sometimes needs to be reeled in.
“Even on scout teams, he’s one of those guys, when I’m calling offensive plays, you’re like, ‘There’s Gardeck, screwing up the play.’ You want him to go hard but he goes so hard every snap that sometimes he makes it look bad,” Kingsbury said.
“That’s just his mentality, that’s his mindset when he steps on that field every day.”
Asked about blowing up his head coach’s practice plans, Gardeck gave a sheepish grin. But he did not outright apologize.
“I do my best to do what’s on the cards and follow instruction, but I’m more of a ‘whoa’ guy than a ‘go’ guy,” Gardeck said. “I’d rather be told to ease off than to be a guy they’re constantly trying to get going … I’d rather him tell me ‘whoa’ than have him tell me we need more effort.”
Gardeck, who went undrafted out of Sioux Falls two years ago but made Arizona’s roster as a special teams player, earned training camp reps last year as a starting inside linebacker due to Haason Reddick’s injury. Although Gardeck didn’t win the job, he earned recognition as a Pro Bowl alternate by the end of the season.
He’s switching to outside linebacker this year, and though reps could be tough to find with Chandler Jones, Devon Kennard, Reddick and Kylie Fitts also on the roster, it’s clear the Cardinals see him as a core member of the locker room and on special teams.
They aren’t surprised about his background as a grinding McDonald’s employee, trying to make a difference in the background and taking life lessons out of what some might only see as a paycheck.
“He’s unbelievable. I learned that story very quickly last year,” teammate Jordan Hicks said. “To see the way he plays and to see his passion day in and day out, he worked tremendously hard. It’s shown the amount of respect, again, that his teammates have.”