Zay Jones needed eight catches against Navy on Saturday to pass Justin Hardy and become the NCAA’s all-time receptions leader. Zay certainly didn’t waste any time and hit the milestone early in the second quarter on a 19-yard strike from quarterback Gardner Minshew on a corner route.
With the football safely secured, Jones had no idea what to do next.
“I didn’t know if they were going to stop the game,” he said, “so I was hesitant to give the ball back because I wanted to hold on to it.”
And why not, because Zay has held on to just about everything in his career at East Carolina.
Jones didn’t just get the record. He rang up yet another huge day on the stat sheet. His 12 catches for 212 yards was one of the few bright spots in ECU’s 66-31 shellacking at the hands of Navy.
It was a short, on-field ceremony that followed the record breaking catch. Since the Atlanta Falcons were on a bye week, Hardy was on hand for the festivities.
“I told Zay that I’d be mad if he wasn’t the one that broke my record,” said Hardy. “I love the way he works and he deserves it.”
It is well documented that Zay had only two collegiate offers out of high school. He decided to follow in the footsteps of his father, Robert, and head to East Carolina.
Robert Jones was an All-American at East Carolina and one of the stars of the 1991 Peach Bowl championship squad that finished 9th nationally in what is widely regarded as the greatest football season in school history.
Zay came to ECU and watched Hardy rise all the way to the top of the NCAA receptions list and was right there when Hardy set the new standard in 2014.
Those roles were reversed on Saturday.
“It was great having Justin here,” said Zay. “I really looked up to him and it was great that it worked out.”
It also worked out for most of Zay’s family to take part in the day.
The video of Zay’s Mom, Moneesha, with tears streaming down her face after the record-setting catch speaks volumes. Papa Robert beamed with pride after the catch.
“We’re very proud of Isaiah,” said Robert. “We’ve got the whole family here. [Zay’s younger brother] Levi played last night in the Texas high school playoffs so we got him a flight and he’s here. It’s special to have us all here to share this special day.”
In a season with very few highlights for East Carolina, Zay Jones — and his chase for the record — was by far the one shining light.
“I am so happy for him,” said first year coach Scottie Montgomery. “He has just been wonderful. He had a seamless transition into this new
staff and new situation and new mindset. I couldn’t be happier for him.”
Those were pretty much the sentiments of the entire Pirate Nation.
Zay is not only a record setting receiver. He’s a class act and an unbelievable ambassador for East Carolina.
As of Monday, he also became a very serious contender for the Biletnikoff Award, which is awarded annually to the most outstanding receiver in college football. The Tallahassee Quarterback Club announced that Zay is one of three finalists for the honor.
What a privilege for me to cover both Robert and Zay in their collegiate careers.
I like to joke with Robert that Zay is a much better interview after games. I tell Robert that Zay is much more polished.
I give credit to Robert and wife Moneesha for raising such an outstanding young man. Zay Jones is truly the player and person you would love for your own children to emulate.
Congratulations to the entire Jones family, especially to Zay for being such a great Pirate both on and off the field.
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