We all know how special the on-field relationship between Pirates QB Shane Carden and wide receiver Justin Hardy is. It has been well written about, like here, and here, and here. I suppose it could be expected that two guys with a positional relationship coming into the program around the same time might bond and forge the pitch-and-catch bond that they share, but their success – re-writing the record books at ECU – got me thinking about it. Is rapport something that can be coached? Is it something that is either there or not in a player? Can the player who doesn’t have it, discover it? Can the player who has it in minute amounts, grow it? And, how do you know it when you see it?
Clearly, when you watch Carden and Hardy – from the jump – you don’t have to be Oz to see they had rapport. They are clearly on the same page of an incredible book at all times, as if one could finish the other’s sentence at any time. Their history explains it, maybe. Afterall, what they got, they built together. Their similar paths to ECU – you know, the road of disrespect and under-appreciation. They are so intimately connected with like ESPN or something. So, let’s look elsewhere when it comes to the QB-WR link.
What creates rapport in the passer-catcher relationship? Is it really all just skill? A highly talented QB and a highly talented WR get put on the field together and viola! Record breaking commence? I don’t think so. If that were the case, all of these teams with 5-star QBs and 5-star WRs signed each year would be dominating the game. But that is not happening out there each season. Sure, we can put a check next to ability to throw and catch. Check! But there is more at play, no? OK, so hard work ethic and drive to be perfect probably adds more to the chance of a great rapport. Ok…check! Film study? Yeah, check!
Perhaps there is some secret sauce…the Colonel’s recipe or something like that.
I asked ECU offensive coordinator Lincoln Riley what he thought it was…you know…that contributed to this type of rapport.
“If you look at Shane and Justin, they have a lot of similarities…shared perspectives,” said Riley. “And, they are friends. They spend a lot of time together on and off the field working on their game. They both came into place at the same time wanting to do well for themselves and the situation was right (for it). Normally, it takes years to develop…and these two have spent summers and Saturdays in the off season…working on it. But, can you coach it? I’m not sure. I do think that players can find it…work at it and make it happen. Boy…those two do have it though.”
Perhaps the secret sauce, if you will, is that the players have to be more than just two skill sets on the same team.
So, supporting the case for it being spontaneously germane to individual athletes could be the examples of 2013 true frosh Isaiah Jones and Davon Grayson. Juxtapose perhaps with the antithesis of this in Lance Ray and even maybe Reese Wiggins. There is no doubt that all four of these receivers possessed high-end pass receiving skill sets, put in the hours of work and preparation, played at 110% and desired to be very good on the field.
Yet, the two freshman, from Day 1 connected with Carden in a way that made it look easy. Like both Jones and Grayson were veteran players, not newbies. Rapport. You could see it. Conversely, Wiggins who burst on the scene as a freshman sort of was hit and miss throughout his career…having a big game here and a silent one there. He certainly was not Carden’s first look. Same can be said for Ray, who despite finishing strong in 2013, never really rose above the corps despite his highly touted – accurately so – skill set. The non-coach that I am observed several ingredients that the youngsters seemed to bring with them: 1) passion, 2) work ethic, 3) desire to please teammates/coaches. Why them? One ingredient I feel contributes to the connection which is known, but maybe not explicitly discussed is TRUST. Whether knowingly or unknowingly, the other factors could all be considered ingredients that go to being trustworthy. Trust is built on intimacy and intimacy is built on knowing one another. Knowing one another takes investments of time and engagement. So, maybe, Coach Ruff’s “we are family” environment matters more than we may give credit to it. Maybe the fact that Jones and Grayson came in with the idea that there is no difference between work and play contributed to their quick rapport building with Carden.
Speculation then would be that maybe the other guys came to work, worked hard, and then went home. Hence, no rapport.
Using Bryce Williams as an example, maybe rapport can be grown. Clearly, Carden and Williams are in sync offensively…Williams scores TDs. But, it seemed that the trust factor increased down the stretch between Carden and Williams and as a result, Williams seemed to become a bigger threat. A more frequented target.
When you hear the offensive linemen saying that Carden is their leader and they would go to war for him…rapport. Perhaps it originate with one individual and it is infectious for those who are predisposed to follow. That’s a thought I would like to run with because if rapport is the result of high trust and the other factors being skill, work ethic, and willingness to follow, then Ruff and crew – while not coaching it – may very well be nurturing it.
Consider that in my conversations for Bonesville Magazine with the freshmen wide receivers, guys like Quay Johnson, Terrell Green, Curtis Burston, and Steven Baggett all said to some degree that they can see themselves making plays with QB understudy Kurt Benkert, using words like trust, leader, reliable, talented, etc., to describe their future QB (at least in their minds). And linemen like Messiah Rice, Des Barmore, Garrett McGhin in company saying that they would follow Benkert into the battle bodes well for the future. Rapport perhaps emanates from the QB outward like a source seeking willing inputs. Whatever the reality, you get the sense that Carden to Hardy may be the first in a succession of duos that establish records at ECU.
And less coaching it, maybe Ruff and his crew seek out and find players who can have rapport…players like Carden and Hardy.