It is only fitting that two players who will be forever linked in ECU football lore, who went from a noteworthy practice-squad duo to one of the nation’s most lethal QB-WR tandems, will finish their collegiate careers on the same all-star team, this time playing with even more pressure, more on the line than ever before.
Shane Carden and Justin Hardy personify all that Coach Ruffin McNeill promised he would do above any championships: Take the notion of what makes ECU special and turn it into palpable, tangible reality. Two kids – one a local looked over and the other everyone’s 2nd choice – outwardly exemplified what we as fans have always hoped and suspected about ECU football. They are the poster children for the “We are Family” program that has attracted higher levels of talent (ok, maybe more talented diamonds in the Ruff) and notably more loyal and harder working athletes than have come through the doors in decades.
Most of all, what these two players showed every day they were in the purple and gold, was how much they love it Greenville. The joy and passion are hard to miss.
I was thinking the other day, how difficult it must be for players to leave the program – Ruff’s program. I can imagine that it really probably feels like a gut punch to know your last day in the program has arrived. While the doors are always open to former players – after all, you can always come home for family – after spending several years in THIS ECU program, it must really create a void.
Carden and Hardy are so engaged with the fans and the students, it’s as if you feel like your really, really know them and you can’t help but really pull for their success – for them this time.
While the season didn’t go like it could have – should have – it is hard not to say that as a fan base, we have witnessed something very special – tied together by these two extraordinary players and even great ambassadors for the school we all love so much.
While it won’t impact me nearly as much as it will these two young athletes, how their transition to the professional ranks unfolds no doubt will be a saga unto itself for all of us who invested hours of time traveling to and watching games and reading and writing about, and hoping for our and their sake that each week would be a successful one. Long story short, if either of these two fails to make a roster in the NFL…it will sting for us all.
The Senior Bowl, the NFL Combine…they should both get their chances to show what they have to NFL talent brokers. What I hope that these makers of NFL players can really see, is that in these two young men, they have not only great football players who take it to the next level when it really matters…not only personable guys who can fit into any locker room…not only natural leaders who lead by example…but also, two guys whose greatest attributes are loyalty, commitment, and doing things the right way each and every time.
ECU’s football future is solid with ample talent coming in behind the best QB and WR to ever have played at ECU.
The challenge isn’t for the guys coming back to be as talented as Carden and Hardy, but rather, to be the true believers in this program that these two were.
The exposure ECU will get on Saturday from these two is one last give back the duo is giving to the program before they become alums. And while it would be shocking if these two are not fixtures in Greenville over the years to come – barring what should be very busy football schedules next year – what they have given to the Pirate Nation already will serve for years to come.
Congrats boys…and thanks for so many memories!