Behind all of the success is inside receivers coach and recruiting coordinator Donnie Kirkpatrick. In an interview with Inside ECU Sports, he gave us the scoop on this year's receiving corps.
Critics have said that anyone can post astronomical numbers in the Air-Raid spread offense that ECU runs; simply based on how frequently the ball is thrown. To a certain degree, that may be true, but Kirkpatrick believes it all comes down to simplicity.
"I think it goes back to the way we practice and the philosophy this offense has on how to throw the ball... The players aren't asked to do too many different things. They're asked to do just enough to be successful and they practice it enough that they get good at it."
Hardy, a former walk-on out of West Craven High School, is expected to be one of the leaders and focal points in the offense next season. In 2012, he had more than twice as many catches (88), yards (1,105) and touchdowns (11) than any other Pirate receiver and is on pace to set every school record in those categories.
"When I watch the film and I see him play, I sure don't know anybody who is better than him," said Kirkpatrick, who believes Hardy will receive national attention in 2013. "I think now people are now beginning to know who he is."
"I am very confident that he will be even better next season because he's not a guy who rests on what he's already done."
Accepting that Hardy is a sure thing as ECU's No. 1 receiver, the million dollar question is ‘who will be the No. 2 guy beside him?'
Reese Wiggins was expected to be that guy last season, but struggled to produce, only collecting 25 receptions and a touchdown. Checking in at 6-foot-8 and 277 pounds, Justin Jones could be a matchup nightmare and sometimes has been. But ever since catching a last-second hail mary his freshman year to beat Tulsa, Jones hasn't lived up to expectations.
"Justin Jones has had his moments for us, obviously, and has done some very good things, but I would have liked to see him be more consistent," said Kirkpatrick.
A player that is often overlooked, but statistically proven he can be a legitimate No. 2 is junior Danny Webster. Webster, who is about a foot smaller and 100 pounds lighter than Jones (5-foot-11, 180 pounds), caught 34 passes and five touchdowns, including the game-tying score in the final moments against Marshall.
"I think Danny is getting ready to have a breakout year. I really see that coming." said Kirkpatrick, who fully expects some new faces to vie for playing time. "DaQuan Barnes, who is a guy we redshirted last year (as a freshman), has great talent… John Worthy is another guy who's had another great summer here. I can see him emerging as someone we'll see next year."
During the summer, the coaching staff isn't allowed to work with the players – rather strength and conditioning coach Jeff Connors and his staff – but Kirkpatrick says that doesn't mean they don't have impact on what they're doing.
"At the end of spring, we make tapes for all of the guys of their one-on-ones during spring practice…We're not allowed to be out there but we've told them what to work on."
This past week, sophomore wide receiver Antonio Cannon was suspended for the second time in less than a year following his arrest for larceny, which Kirkpatrick said was shocking and disappointing.
"You get close to these kids, you believe in them and you want to see them succeed, so you feel like a little bit of you dies when one doesn't succeed."