Junior Justin Hardy
Nov. 9, 2013
By Bill Woodward
GREENVILLE, N.C. - One is a junior who has become one of the most prolific pass-catchers in East Carolina football history. The other is a freshman with Pirate bloodlines that is rapidly developing into a potent weapon himself.
They are roommates on the nights before games when the Pirates stay in a hotel. On the football field, they are becoming a tandem that is hard for opponents to handle.
Tulsa was the latest team to have trouble containing junior Justin Hardy and true freshman Isaiah Jones - who combined for 18 catches, 203 yards receiving and three touchdowns in the Pirates 58-24 victory Saturday at Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium.
"They are both very good receivers, have very good ball skills," ECU quarterback Shane Carden said after the win that lifted ECU to 7-2, 5-1 in Conference USA. "When (Jones) came in, he followed Hardy around. He would watch film with him. He would stand there and watch when we were doing 7-on-7 in the summer. He didn't know the offense yet but he picked it up so fast.
"He is kind of a humble guy like Hardy is. There are going to be some great times here for Isaiah."
The times are already good for Hardy, who placed his name in the record books again on Saturday when he caught his 23rd career touchdown pass - breaking Lance Lewis' mark of 22 set from 2010-11. Hardy also reached the 1,000-yard mark in receiving for the second-straight season - the first ECU receiver to record two 1,000-yard seasons.
"It feels great, a lot of hard work paying off," Hardy said of the records. "I try to take my time in practice and work on the little things, and try to carry it over to the field."
Hardy grabbed 10 passes against Tulsa for 99 yards, including a 5-yard scoring pass in the third quarter. Hitting 1,000 for a second-straight year was meaningful, he said. He has been a marked man this season, always drawing plenty of attention from opposing defenses.
Still, Hardy has found a way to get open and again be a go-to receiver for Carden.
"Going back-to-back seasons with 1,000 means a lot," Hardy said. "Going through the offseason, coach told me the things I needed to work on. I needed to work on my technique, route running, going real hard in practice and working on the little things. Come game time, it's easy."
Carden knows better. While it might look easy, Hardy's production comes from hard work and a rare talent for getting open when his quarterback is in trouble.
"He has `it,' " Carden said. "He is just a good receiver. He has good ball skills and knows how to get open. He knows what the defense is doing and knows what I am doing. The time we spent last year in the film room, the practice in the summer, we know what each other is thinking. "
Jones, the son of former East Carolina All-American Robert Jones, who was an NFL star with the Dallas Cowboys, has put his time with Hardy to good use. And he is quickly becoming a primary weapon for the Pirates.
Jones had eight catches for 104 yards and grabbed a pair of touchdown tosses from Carden on Saturday. In ECU's past five games, Jones has caught 33 passes for 328 yards and four touchdowns.
"He has been an awesome mentor," Jones said of Hardy. "He is always telling me what I can do to get better and I am always asking him questions. It's like having one of the greatest players (in ECU history) in your back pocket. It's a really cool tool. I try to use it whenever I can.
"He is just a great guy. I am just lucky to have someone like him to mentor me."
Jones has been an apt student, soaking up everything he can from Hardy's experience - from the junior's work ethic to his play on the field.
"I really break down Justin's game, detail by detail," Jones said. "Whether it's catching the ball and getting up the field, his route running, getting open in space, knowing when to sit in the hole and when to go. I really take bits and pieces from Justin's game."
That has paid off for the talented freshman, Carden said.
"I think you are starting to see Isaiah get into that same mold (as Hardy)," Carden said. "He has gotten in there and worked just like Justin did when he was younger. It is going to be pretty cool to see Isaiah grow up in this offense."