Former East Carolina receiver Justin Hardy went from a walk-on with the Pirates to the NCAA’s all-time leader in career receptions.
But just like four years ago when he wasn’t on scholarship, Hardy still feels like he’s being overlooked. Some say Hardy’s success came from the pass-happy system under ECU coach Ruffin McNeill.
Hardy laughs it off.
“Everybody is entitled to their own opinion,” Hardy said Thursday at ECU’s pro day. “I know what I can do, and people know what I can do. Numbers don’t lie. I’ll leave it at that.”
Never miss a local story.
Hardy’s 387 career catches are more than any other player in Division I history, and his 4,541 career receiving yards are third all time. The most prolific pass-catcher in Pirates’ history, Hardy continued to show his skills Thursday despite rainy and wet conditions on ECU’s practice field.
Catching passes one last time from former ECU quarterback Shane Carden, Hardy hauled in several passes, including one deep ball to end the session in front of scouts representing all 32 NFL teams.
“Justin was Justin today,” Carden told reporters after the workout. “He ran great routes, caught some great passes. He was Justin; that’s all I can say. He continues to get better since the combine. His hands look better, and he looks better on his routes; if that was possible, he made it possible.”
Hardy’s route-running and ball-catching abilities are his strengths. At the combine, Hardy was tied for having the fourth-largest hands among all receivers at 10 inches.
But Hardy ran a disappointing 4.56-second 40-yard dash. At ECU Thursday, he improved his time to 4.40, he said, though the run was on a track rather than grass. Typically, scouts will add about one-tenth of a second to the time if it’s on a track.
“You have to take everything to a whole other level since you’re going to another level,” Hardy said. “Really, one of the big things I wanted to prove is that I belong here.”
Hardy, who in December won the Bullworth Trophy for the nation’s top former walk-on, could hear his name called in the draft as early as the third round, and he’ll look to work his way up a team’s roster from a No. 3 or 4 receiver.
“Justin’s Justin,” McNeill said. “Every year, every game, every opponent no matter who it was, he blocked well, and he caught the ball in crucial situations. He made catches that they highlight in the NFL. Justin’s a guy who’s not only a great guy, but he’s smart.”
Testaverde’s help: Carden’s throwing motion helped him set nearly every passing record in East Carolina history, but it still needed work.
Enter Vinny Testaverde, a 21-year NFL veteran who played for, among other teams, the Carolina Panthers. Testaverde worked with Carden for three weeks before his pro day to shorten the motion in his non-throwing arm and shorten his stride to create more power.
“I know he’ll go out and show his accuracy, his power, his arm strength and his overall ability to throw the football like an NFL quarterback does and look like one,” Testaverde said, “not the quarterback that was playing here with the awkward looking delivery, if you will.”
Carden’s throwing session was delayed nearly two hours because of heavy rain, and the time off showed as he missed on several deep passes.
But Testaverde vouched for Carden’s football knowledge. Testaverde, who’s been coaching quarterbacks off and on for about seven years, liked what he saw from Carden when he got him on the drawing board.
“Matter of fact, he was retaining a lot of what he learned when he was with (Titans coach) Ken Whisenhunt at the Senior Bowl, and he’s a smart kid,” Testaverde said. “I found that out right away. We’ve covered the whole gamut of an NFL playbook and what it entails. We talked about plays and reads and those kinds of things.”
Carden will likely go undrafted in May and sign as a free agent with a team, where he’ll hope to earn a spot on the roster in training camp.
Jones: 704-358-5323; Twitter: @jjones9