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Hardin's hero happy in Atlanta
Kroy Biermann, the Falcons’ fifth-round pick in April’s NFL draft works out during the pre-draft NFL combine. - photo by The Associated Press

When the call finally came, everyone got quiet.

On one end of the line was Kroy Biermann, surrounded by his parents and sisters; on the other end, the Atlanta Falcons.

It was April 27 — draft day — and it was a call that Biermann, his family and just about the whole town of Hardin, Montana, had been waiting for.

"When he started talking to the coach and the general manager, we knew it was good news," Kroy’s father, Keith said. "Then it popped up on the TV that he’d been drafted by the Falcons."

What followed was a mixture of joy, relief and exhilaration, not to mention a community wide celebration.

Kroy, the youngest and the only son of the three Biermann children had just been selected in the fifth round, making him the first Hardin High School graduate to be drafted into the NFL and a bigger celebrity than he already was in the small town in southeast Montana.

But what came before is why Biermann’s a 6-foot-3, 240-pound folk hero in his home state.

Supporters say it’s his down-to-earth personality or his rise from rural high school football to the Buck Buchannan Award, an honor given to the best Division I-AA defensive player in the nation. Or, it’s the time he helped Montana win the state’s biggest rivalry game by running down a Montana State wide receiver 45 yards down the field.

"We were all in tears on draft day," said Dawain Walker, one of Biermann’s coaches at Hardin High. "He’s been the talk of the town, really the talk of the state. You know Montana has had some (natives) sign in the pros as free agents and some of the college guys have been drafted, but they’re usually from out of state.

"It’s just been a great success story for us."

So the day Biermann was drafted, the town of Hardin celebrated.

"They had a whole community party planned for him," Keith Biermann said. "It was really a pretty neat deal. For a small town, there were a lot of people there. (Kroy) got to see a lot of the people that he grew up with and have supported him for so long."

That wasn’t all the town had planned. Since then, Kroy Biermann has been named mayor of Hardin for a week and received the key to the city.

Still the same

Growing up in Hardin, "pretty much the only thing to do was sports and work," Biermann said.

Not that he minded.

"That’s what I was raised on — sports and working hard and trying to do everything to achieve my goals."

In between he filled his time hunting, fishing and working on old cars.

"All the stuff you grow up in Montana doing."

That he hasn’t changed since then is what endears him to those who have watched him grow up.

"He remains Kroy," Walker said. "You’ll see him and he’s the same; driving around in his pick-up truck, probably has his dog with him."

Biermann spent his early years in Fort Smith, Montana, a village of about 100 people near a national recreation area where his father worked as an engineer. When Biermann was in middle school his family moved 45 miles northeast to Hardin. There, around more kids his age, Biermann’s interest in athletics grew.

And from the beginning, he excelled.

"He did good," Keith Biermann said. "He’s always been very competitive."

At Hardin High, Biermann was a standout linebacker and fullback on the football team, and a two-time state runner-up on the wrestling team, despite only picking up the sport as a sophomore.

During Biermann’s years at the school, Hardin’s football teams didn’t win much. But to college recruiters, his talent was obvious.

"He came on the radar right before his senior year," said University of Montana defensive coordinator Kraig Paulson. "We got some film on him and noticed him right away. He was playing everywhere then, but we did get to see him with his hand on the ground some, when he lined up for punt block. And immediately you noticed his explosion, his hand strength. He’s just a hard guy to block."

With that in mind, shortly after Biermann arrived on campus in Missoula, Paulson moved him from linebacker to defensive end, and never thought twice about it.

At the position, Biermann earned playing time — and seven tackles for a loss — as a 210-pound freshman.

He had seven sacks as a sophomore and 11 as a junior when he was a Buchanan Award finalist. When he won the award as a senior he had 72 tackles, 15 sacks and five tackles for a loss.

"And he’s never changed," Paulson said. "Once you get to know him, that’s the person he’s going to be. Even when he started getting all the attention and the awards and everything, it didn’t cause him to slack off in other areas. He still went to class and made good grades. He was still in the film room watching the right things, studying how what he can do might work against his man, and he was still working hard in the weight room.

"That’s the true beauty of him. When all these things came his way, he’s still the same dude."

What comes next

Alone on the field, beating his way through a maze of heavy rubber tackling dummies after a recent practice at Falcons headquarters in Flowery Branch, Biermann displays the same single-mindedness that propelled him to this point in his football career.

It’s no surprise to those that know him.

"I’ve summed up Kroy this way — high effort, low maintenance," Paulson said. "I’ve never been an NFL coach and nobody here is going to try to predict how he’ll do, but that’s what (the Falcons) are getting with him.

"He is absolutely committed to doing this, and he’s going to work harder than anybody at it."

But Biermann knows hard work alone isn’t going to guarantee him a spot on the Falcons’ 53-man roster. He’s one of seven Falcons fighting for a spot at defensive end, and at his size, he’s considered undersized for the position by NFL standards.

John Abraham, one of the team’s most talented defenders, and Jamaal Anderson, the team’s first pick in the 2007 draft, figure to hold down the starting spots, though Anderson has been working inside in passing situations during offseason drills. Crowding the position are Chauncey Davis, who tallied 30 tackles in 16 games as a reserve last year, and Simon Fraser, a three-year veteran.

Biermann isn’t fretting, though. He’s trying to take advantage of the opportunity.

"I’m really pleased to be here," he said. "And, if I make (the team), it’s going to be a great opportunity for me to fit into a team that’s improving and looking to do great things."

Back in Montana, great things aren’t necessarily expected for Biermann. They just know Kroy will be Kroy.

"I don’t know how he stacks up in the NFL," Paulson said. "I just know he’ll work hard at it."

And not just for his roster spot, either. Biermann’s got more to play for than that.

"The kids (in Hardin) need a role model and need somebody they can see that has come from the same place they have, and that they can achieve whatever they dream," Biermann said. "It’s a good thing and I’m happy to represent Montana and Hardin."

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