By Ron Clements | Originally Published on SportingNews.com
INDIANAPOLIS — While many of the top receivers in the 2015 NFL Draft class spoke with the media standing behind a podium, the NCAA’s all-time leading receiver was relegated to an interview table.
East Carolina’s Justin Hardy is used to being overlooked. He had no Division I offers coming out of West Craven High School in Vanceboro, N.C., and walked on at ECU. Despite breaking the NCAA receptions record, previously held by former Oklahoma receiver Ryan Broyles, Hardy was not a finalist for the Biletnikoff Award.
“It’s one of those things I’ve been looking at my whole life,” said Hardy, a former high school quarterback who has drawn comparisons to Green Bay Packers receiver Randall Cobb — another former quarterback.
What Hardy does well is adjust to the ball in the air. He’s also an excellent route runner, which helps him create space despite his lack of high-end speed. Those attributes helped him grab 387 passes for 4,541 yards and 35 touchdowns at ECU, where coach Ruffin McNeill gave him an opportunity to play and Hardy eventually won the Burlsworth Trophy as the nation’s best former walk-on.
“That meant a lot, to have a trophy out there for guys like me,” Hardy said. “To accomplish so much in your college career, it’s a great honor.
“It says a lot, that you go out there and do everything and give 110 percent.”
Another ECU receiver, Cam Worthy, is at the Combine and said being overlooked doesn’t faze him even though he believes he’s one of the best receivers in the draft class. The 6-2, 211-pound Worthy and Hardy are great friends and said they “use the knocks on us as motivation.”
“Cam’s a great player,” said Hardy, who measures in at 5-10, 192. “He was a great guy for our team and he’s going to be a good guy for any team in the league that gets him.”
Worthy was invited to play in the Medal of Honor Bowl while Hardy and ECU quarterback Shane Carden went to the Senior Bowl last month.
“We really didn’t get a chance to go together as much as people thought we did,” Hardy said of the week in Mobile. “There were other quarterbacks and receivers, so we didn’t have a chance to link up like we usually do.
“Shane’s a great guy. Anytime a play breaks down, he extends the play trying to make it work. He has a great arm and is always trying to figure out ways to get better.”
Hardy and Carden, the American Athletic Conference player of the year last season who set conference and school records with 4,736 passing yards, set records because of “hard work and dedication and having a great attitude.”
While Broyles was a second-round pick of the Detroit Lions in 2012, Hardy is projected as a third-rounder — at best. He is ready to prove himself and said he’s always admired Jerry Rice, an underrated college player out of Mississippi Valley State who wasn’t that fast but became the best receiver in NFL history.
Despite some naysayers, Hardy said he’s received positive feedback from NFL teams, who like his work ethic and football IQ. Now that his long path to the NFL is nearly complete, Hardy said it’s been fun; now it’s about trying to earn his spot onto an NFL roster, just as he earned a scholarship at ECU.
“I relish the opportunity,” he said. “Coming from no D-I offers to getting to this spot, I’m trying to be the best that I can be and go from there.”