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East Carolina’s Justin Hardy pulls off hat trick

GREENVILLE Despite his prolific East Carolina career, receiver Justin Hardy tends to handle media sessions with the same strictly business game face he wears when taking on defensive backs. However, on Saturday night he made an exception.

After interviews following East Carolina’s 52-7 season-opening victory against N.C. Central, he walked over to coach Ruffin McNeill – who just happened to be talking about the star senior – and wrapped his arm around him when the façade cracked and so did a smile.

You can’t blame him for dropping his guard for a minute, he’s dropped nothing else during his three-plus years as a Pirate.

On Saturday, Hardy became the undisputed king of East Carolina wide receivers when he hauled in his 269th career pass to move past Dallas Cowboy Dwayne Harris on the school’s all-time reception list.

“It felt great (to get the record),” Hardy said. “Dwayne’s a great player and being able to break that record means a lot to me.”

With that, Hardy completed the career hat trick as the program’s all-time leader in receiving yards (3,134), touchdown receptions (27) and career receptions (274).

Not surprisingly, he said he hadn’t given the feat much thought.

“I haven’t really had the chance to think about it,” Hardy said. “But, it feels great though.”

He finished the night catching eight of fellow record-setter Shane Carden’s passes for 87 yards and two touchdowns. Hardy even did his best Carden impression as he threw a perfect 41-yard bomb to rising star Isaiah Jones off of a reverse to put ECU up 10-7 in the first quarter.

“He’s something special,” Carden said. “I’m glad I could be a part of his career. He’s a great player and a great guy. He’s a friend of mine and I’m looking forward to continuing this relationship after college.

“It’s exciting to play with a guy who’s all about the team and so team-orientated and so humble. I’m proud of him.”

Carden wasn’t bad himself. The Pirates offense overcame a sluggish start to reel off 52 straight points as he connected on 26 of 37 passes for 283 yards and three touchdowns in three quarters.

Hardy, a lightly recruited walk-on from West Craven High, is the ultimate rags-to-riches story. It’s one that embodies the program.

“Justin Hardy exudes what we want here,” McNeill said. “He believes in the team concept and he leads with a focus on our vision and mission.”

With all of ECU’s major receiving marks nestled in the firm grasp of Hardy’s hands, the next step for the 6-foot, 188-pound pass-catching machine is to grab the NCAA Division One all-time receptions record.

Hardy stands 77 grabs away from topping former Oklahoma star Ryan Broyles’ mark of 349 catches in 2011.

It’s a goal that seems well within reach, but one Hardy won’t spend much time thinking about.

“I just go out there and play,” Hardy said.

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