Summer Journal: Preparing For the Spotlight

GREENVILLE, N.C. — Shane Carden and Justin Hardy enter their senior seasons with a larger spotlight cast upon them.

When walking around East Carolina’s campus, you don’t have to look far to find Shane Carden and Justin Hardy.

They appear on posters, newspaper clippings on restaurant walls and can even be seen posing on the front page of the school’s athletic site. Also, it’s no coincidence that No. 2 and 5 ECU jerseys have become incredibly popular at Greenville outfitters and can usually be found near the entrances of those stores.

Add ECU upgrading into the American Athletic Conference, which will allow for most of the Pirates’ games to air on the ESPN family of networks this fall, and the potential for both players to be top-tier draft prospects to the mix, and the school has two superstars on its hands unlike any they have had before.

“I think they are the face of our football team right now,” said ECU associate athletics director Shelly Binegar. “We use them on our posters, we use them on our schedule cards, we use them on ads in newspapers. They are what people relate to right now because they see their names in the media because of their accolades on the field.”

The list of those accolades is a long one.

Carden was Conference USA’s player of the year in 2013 after passing for an ECU single-season record 4,139 yards and finishing with the country’s second-best completion percentage (70.5 %).

Meanwhile, Hardy amassed an ECU record and league-best 114 catches for 1,284 yards, which is also a school record. Going into his senior year, the two-time All-Conference USA first-teamer already owns ECU career marks for receiving yards (3,047) and touchdowns (25) and is 84 receptions away from breaking former Oklahoma receiver Ryan Bryoles’ FBS-record 349 career catches.

Some NFL Draft experts have speculated that Hardy could be selected as high as the first or second round next May, while Carden’s name continues to be included amongst college football’s elite quarterbacks.

In order to keep its stars on track, ECU brought in communication specialists last month from the Kevin Sullivan group to work specifically with Carden and Hardy on their media skills.

“I think it’s important as a college student — not so much even as just a football player — as a life skill, as a way to develop and to have a good grasp on communication skills going into your corporate life after football,” said ECU Director of Media Relations, Tom McClellan.

It was also an opportunity to educate them on the climate of modern-day media coverage, especially for NFL Draft prospects in big-time college football.

“Nowadays, anything you say is immediately public,” Binegar told IES in a phone interview. “With Twitter and websites and blogs, they need to be very careful to keep themselves in a very positive position.”

ECU senior quarterback Shane Carden.
(Kat Jessick/
Carden seemed to be naturally media savvy from the moment he took over as ECU’s starting quarterback three games into the 2012 season. But those skills have not come quite as easy to Hardy, who has gone from a walk-on to one of the country’s best receivers in three short years.

Although the Vanceboro, N.C. native has opened up more vocally in the last year after he had been taught different speaking techniques and strategies, his personality has always been more introverted; preferring to let actions speak louder than words.

“We’re not going to try and change his personality and we don’t want him to do anything he’s uncomfortable doing,” said Binegar. “I think he’s one of those guys that believes in ‘you walk the walk’ and he leads by example.”

McClellan has handled the football program's media requests since 2004 and agreed Carden and Hardy have created more buzz going into a season than any two players he has worked with at ECU — that includes 2008 first-round draft pick Chris Johnson, who didn’t attract much national attention until after his 4.24-second 40-yard dash at the NFL Combine.

The duo is slated to be among the four Pirates traveling to Providence, RI, for the American Conference’s media days at the end of the month. Then, ECU reports to fall camp a few days later Aug. 3.

And as long as Carden and Hardy’s numbers continue to inflate in Lincoln Riley’s “Air Raid” spread offense on the field, the attention they receive off of it is only going to rise as well. But just as they are prepared for opponents on the field, they are ready for whatever challenge or question they will face when they walk off it.

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