GREENVILLE — On Saturdays – and occasional Thursdays – elusive East Carolina wide receiver Justin Hardy has become a master of all patterns en route to becoming one of Conference USA’s best offensive weapons.
However, when it comes to his career pattern, the junior knows one direction: up.
The 6-foot, 186-pound former West Craven High quarterback arrived at ECU via walk-on invitation in 2010 looking to catch on at receiver, and had to redshirt while making the transition.
Hardy proved to be a fast learner.
He smashed the Pirates’ freshman receiving records for yards and catches in 2011, grabbing 64 passes for 658 yards and six touchdowns to land a spot on the Conference USA All-Freshmen team.
Last year, his 88 receptions and 1,105 yards were each the third best single-season totals in ECU history.
In the Pirates’ 2013 opener, Hardy tied his Pirates’ single-game reception record by catching 16 balls for 191 yards. He added four more catches Thursday against Florida Atlantic, including his first touchdown.
“After my freshman year I set a pretty good mark for myself and just wanted to be better than I was,” Hardy said. “I just wanted to take it to the next level.”
It comes as no surprise Hardy’s goal this season is to improve upon last year’s success, and operating in an offense that makes it hard for defenses to focus on one player there’s no reason to think he won’t.
“That’s the thing about this offense, it’s hard to double guys and if (defenses) do they just give us something else that’s so big,” ECU offensive coordinator Lincoln Riley said. “If they give more attention to one guy or one side of the ball than we’re going to be able to take advantage of it.”
Double-teamed or not, Hardy makes an impact thanks to his devotion to becoming a complete receiver.
“He doesn’t have a lot of weaknesses,” Riley said. “He’s a smart player and he understands the game and makes a lot of adjustments throughout the game. He’s tough and he’s got great hands, especially in traffic.”
Hardy’s soft hands were on full display in ECU’s regular season finale against Marshall last year as he set the Pirates’ record with 16 catches for 171 yards in their 65-59 double-overtime victory over the Thundering Herd.
Hardy entered his junior season second on ECU’s career receptions list and already has added 20 more. With 172 catches, he now is within 100 of current Dallas Cowboy Dwayne Harris’ record of 268.
The crafty wide receiver is also in arms length of Harris’ receiving yards record of 3,001, needing only 1,012 to take over the top spot.
Though those records are well within grasp, Hardy’s goal for this season is the same as it has been since he arrived.
“My plan is to just be better than I was last year.”