CHERUBINI CHIMES IN
One-on-One with the
August 13, 2010
By Ron Cherubini
All rights reserved.
Mobile Alpha version of this page.
Justin Hardy’s rise from walk-on to star inside wide receiver at East
Carolina reads akin to a Hollywood script. Rocky Balboa’s self-belief and
determination ain’t got jack on Hardy. A standout player at West Craven High
School just down the road from the ECU campus, Hardy saw very little
interest from colleges. It is a script played out over and over and over
again at rural high schools all over the country. The really good player
gets overlooked. Most of the time, the story ends like this: Same kid, a few
years later, sitting at the bar with friends watching college football
lamenting about how that should be him up there on that screen.
But Hardy went the other direction. He so believed in his ability to play
that he walked in the door at ECU and took a position. Not content on being
practice squad fodder, he was dead set on being a real game-changer. If
Hardy is likened to Rocky, then that would make offensive coordinator
Lincoln Riley a very young – but just as much the mentor – Mickey, Rocky’s
trainer. The Mick saw it in Rocky right away and together they brought out
the best of his talents. Riley, likewise, made it clear from the first day
he assessed the receivers at ECU that Justin Hardy would be one of the best
to come out of the program.
Insanity at the time considering that among the receivers in the coffers
were Dwayne Harris and Lance Lewis, both in the NFL now. But, in just over a
year, Hardy not only found himself starting at the “Y” position, but also
playing like a veteran despite being a redshirt freshman. Now, considered
already to be among the best receivers in Conference USA, Hardy continues to
climb, continues to hone his craft, continues to believe his opportunities
are limitless. His saga is a true feel-good story that also provides a heck
of a benefit to the team on the field.
Justin was kind enough to sit down for a chat with Bonesville to share his
insights on the upcoming season.
Justin Hardy in action
(ECU SID photo)
One-on-One with Justin Hardy
Q: So, not long ago you were a
guy walking on to this team. Today you are largely
considered one of the fast-rising, elite receivers
in C-USA. Talk about your journey to this point.
A: Every minute of it has meant a
lot to me. I was a preferred walk-on, so I knew I
was going to at least get a chance and Coach
(Lincoln) Riley gave me that chance. I am so
thankful for that chance and so when I made the
team, it really made me work harder and harder. I
put my trust in (the coaches) and they put trust in
me and now a dream has come true for me.
Q: Coach Riley has always been a
strong advocate for you and your practice efforts.
Talk about what he has meant for your development.
A: I am thankful for the
relationship I have with Coach Riley. We talk about
things — you know football and other things. We have
gotten together to talk — maybe grab something to
eat together — during the off-season. It is a very
important connection for me. He has always believed
in my abilities and (the relationship) motivates me
Q: When you assess your
performance last season, what stands out to you and
what have you been building on, working on? [Is
there] one play you would like to have back from
A: I have always practiced hard
and learned that I need to always focus on
practicing harder each day. The harder you practice,
the easier it is to play games. I work at being as
prepared as I can be for anything we do out here.
One play at a time. One play… hmmm… it would
definitely be that drop I had against Virginia Tech
on the first drive. That one hurt and it is a catch
I should have made.
Q: I know this is an unfair
question, but with four guys battling for the QB
role, does it make a difference to you who wins it?
One word on each: Rio, Shane, Brad, Cody?
A: It really doesn’t matter to
me. I don’t have a preference. All four of those
guys could be a starter. For me, the competition at
quarterback makes my practice better because those
four guys are all on it and so I am getting great
reps each time. [A word or phrase to describe each
of the QBs:] Rio Johnson: He’s a great guy, a good
passer and he understands this offense; Shane Carden:
Another great passer and a more mobile type of
quarterback and really knows the offense, too; Brad
Wornick: He is a true veteran… shows good leadership
and a good passer, too; Cody Keith: Young, great
potential, another mobile passer.
Q: What player on this team do
you most respect and why?
A: I have to give you two:
They both play hard every minute they are on the
field. They let their play speak for itself. They
are leaders and they are dependable. And they are
both great guys off the field.
Q: Who is your candidate for
break-out receiver this season?
A: Reese Wiggins is one for sure.
He came on late last year and was like… man… he can
take it all the way. J.J. (Justin Jones), he is
going to be great, great this year. He is all
healthy and I think he will have a huge year. Then
there is Bodie (Andrew Bodenheimer). He is our
leader, no question, and I also would say Dayon
(Arrington). I think he is going to have a big year,
too. All the guys on this corps could have a huge
Q: You have had a chance to work
against some pretty good secondary guys and
linebackers in pass coverage last season. How is our
pass coverage looking from your perspective?
A: The secondary, honestly, looks
better this season than last year. They are all
selling out for the system. I know we lost three
starters but I think we actually have a better
secondary this year.
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