The highlight catches Justin Hardy has compiled over the years seem as endless as the number of stars in the galaxy, but for East Carolina quarterback Shane Carden, there is one that eclipses all others.
"I have to go back to my first year starting at UAB (2012)," Carden said. "I threw a fade ball into two (deep) man (coverage), and the safety was on it. It ended up bouncing off the safety, hit the corner and Justin caught it and got a foot inbounds. I looked at (offensive coordinator Lincoln Riley), and I didn't know what to say. I was, like, 'Well, it's a touchdown, I guess.'
"Ever since then, I was, like, it's not going to matter exactly (where I put the ball), I just got to get it around the guy, and he's going to make the catch."
Out of all the lessons Carden has learned over the years that might have been the most valuable one. The Pirates senior quarterback has gone to Hardy often, 346 times to be exact, which puts him four receptions shy of breaking Ryan Broyles FBS record of 349 career catches.
Though the 6-0, 188-pound former walk-on is on the brink of a major college football record, his focus has been where it always is: on game day.
"At the beginning of the season, I had everybody come at me and tell me, 'You have a chance to do this, or you have a chance to do that.' And I let it be known that, yeah, it would be a great accomplishment, but with the season starting, I just wanted to stay the course and play the game," Hardy said. "I think it would be nice to (break the record), but I just want to go out there and win."
The senior wide receiver, who caught 15 passes for 188 yards and a touchdown during the Pirates 54-46 loss to Cincinnati, is ECU's all-time leader in career receptions (346), receiving yards (4,049) and touchdown receptions (32).
Despite the gaudy statistics, Hardy was not one of the 10 semifinalists for the Biletnikoff Award, something ECU head coach Ruffin McNeill called "idiotic" on Monday.
As for the record, McNeill said it couldn't happen to a better person.
"Justin is an unselfish player, so to see it happen to a young man like him is an honor," McNeill said. "He's humble, and he serves. I appreciate him."
While he was snubbed by the Biletnikoff Award panel, Hardy was named to the Burlsworth Trophy watch list, which honors the top collegiate player who began his career as a walk-on, and both he and Carden will be participants in this year's Reese's Senior Bowl.