National Signing Day has been reduced to an afterthought, thanks to an early signing period in which most schools locked up the majority of their incoming freshman classes two months before the traditional early February date.
But while this year’s Signing Day lacked the fanfare of previous years, it was no less significant for East Carolina’s struggling football program.
Coach Scottie Montgomery added only one more player to the 19 that submitted their national letters of intent back in December.
It was a big one, though, and not just because Dorian Hardy is 6-foot-4 and 245 pounds.
Rather, it’s because of the list of schools the four-star prospect passed up on to join quarterback Holton Ahlers as the highest-rated member of ECU’s recruiting class.
According to most of the top Internet recruiting sites, Hardy held offers from Alabama, Clemson, Ohio State, Miami and Michigan, just to name a few.
The young New Jersey native had originally committed to Penn State, but the Nittany Lions backed off him last October after he was involved in a post-practice fight at Paramus Catholic High School.
Accounts of the incident differ, but Hardy was suspended and subsequently transferred to North Brunswick Township High.
It’s not clear whether the controversy caused any of the other top teams pursuing him to lose interest as well. But it’s certain that ECU wouldn’t have been in a position to land him had his senior year not encountered such a serious speedbump.
Upon announcing Hardy’s signing last week, Montgomery told Bonesville’s Al Myatt that he and his staff thoroughly researched both the incident and the young player’s character and “don’t have any reservations about giving him an opportunity to play.”
Regardless of the past, the Pirates coach said his newest player will have the opportunity to “prove himself continually by the day” in the future — the same as every other member of the program.
Even if there is some lingering doubt, signing Hardy was still a gamble worth taking.
Traditional powers in the highest profile conferences can afford to be picky with their recruits when there are other four- and even five-star talents on which they can fall back. When you’re a Group of Five team coming off back-to-back 3-9 seasons with a defense that ranked dead last among FBS schools in both points and yardage allowed per game — as ECU is — you have to take a few chances.
And Hardy certainly appears to be worth the chance.
Listed as the No. 3 recruit in New Jersey and sixth among all defensive ends nationally, Hardy led his original school, St. Joseph Regional, to a pair of state championship game appearances before leaving for Paramus Catholic.
In five games before his 2017 season was derailed, Hardy was credited with 34 tackles, 2.5 sacks, three recovered fumbles and two forced fumbles. His quickness and athleticism give him the potential to become a disrupter off the edge the likes of which ECU hasn’t had in a long time.
How long it takes for him to earn his way into the lineup will depend on how quickly he comes along in fall camp, since unlike 10 of his fellow new recruits, he won’t be on campus in time to participate in spring practice.
That begins next week, by the way.
Of those new recruits already enrolled, seven play on the defensive side of the ball, including two junior college transfer cornerbacks. Their early arrival will give them a head start in learning the system being installed by new defensive coordinator David Blackwell. Along with the addition of a talent the likes of Hardy, the juco DBs represent a hopeful first step toward improving a unit that can’t get much worse than it was a year ago.