East Carolina had 12 players named to All-Conference USA football teams, according to an announcement from the league office Tuesday. Headlining the selections for the Pirates’ was sophomore first-team receiver Justin Hardy.
ECU placed five players on the second team in junior running back Vintavious Cooper, junior offensive lineman Will Simmons, senior defensive lineman Michael Brooks, junior linebacker Derrell Johnson and Hardy as a punt returner. Receiving honorable mention nods were sophomore quarterback Shane Carden, junior offensive lineman Adhem Elsawi, junior defensive lineman Lee Pegues, sophomore linebacker Jeremy Grove, junior defensive back Damon Magazu, sophomore kicker Warren Harvey and junior punter Trent Tignor.
Hardy has been a key component to the Pirates’ potent passing attack this season, currently ranking second in Conference USA in receptions per game (6.92), while standing third in receiving yards per contest (87.17). The former West Craven star from Vanceboro also rates among the best at the FBS level, ranking 18th in receptions per game, 26th in total receiving yards (1,046) and 29th in receiving yards per game. His 83 catches are tied for the fourth-most in ECU single-season history, while his 1,046 yards are the third-highest total for the program in a single campaign. He has found his way to the endzone 10 times this season and has had at least a touchdown catch in nine games. Among league players this year, he is tied for second with five 100-yard receiving games and established an ECU single-game mark for receptions with 16, while also racking up 171 receiving yards in a win over Marshall.
Hardy has also worked as the team’s punt returner this season and is averaging a league third-best 9.67 yards per runback. He began his season with a 43-yard return against Appalachian State and also recorded a 41-yarder against Houston.
Cooper has worked as ECU’s primary ball carrier this season, standing fifth in the conference with an average of 85.8 yards per game. Among league players, he is tied for second with four 100-yard rushing games. Cooper has totaled 1,030 yards on the ground this season on 191 carries (5.4 ypc) and became the first ECU back since 2009 to break the 1,000-yard rushing barrier. He ran for 172 yards and two touchdowns, plus picked up a 30-yard touchdown reception against UAB in the first of his three consecutive 100-yard rushing games.
Simmons, the starting right guard, has helped the Pirates rank among the top-six in the conference in passing efficiency (4th), passing offense (5th), fewest sacks allowed (5th), total offense (6th) and scoring offense (6th). The ECU offense has also totaled 400 yards or more on five occasions, including a 600-yard effort (214 rush and 386 passing) against UAB.
Brooks, despite being limited to 10 games because of injury, still ranks second among all Pirate defensive linemen with 34 tackles. He has also recorded 3.5 tackles for lost yardage, a pair of sacks, three quarterback hurries and an interception. Brooks began his season as the starting nose tackle, but has recently contributed as the starting defensive end in five of the last six games. He finished strong in recording six tackles and a sack against both Tulane and Marshall over the final two games, while also netting his second career interception off a tipped pass.
After switching positions from end to outside linebacker in the off-season, Johnson had a breakout campaign as a junior by leading the team in sacks (0.58) and tackles for loss yardage (0.92). Of Johnson’s seven sacks this season, six came over the final three games. His 58 tackles rank fourth on the team, while his 11.0 tackles for lost yardage are six more than his next closest teammate. Johnson also tops the team in quarterback pressures with seven and recovered fumbles with two. He collected his biggest fumble recovery of the season in the second overtime period against Marshall to thwart a Thundering Herd drive and allow the Pirates to score the game-winning touchdown in a 65-59 victory. The Marshall contest was his finest of the season as he recorded a career-high 14 tackles, including 2.5 sacks and two stops for lost yardage.
Carden, the trigger man for the Pirates’ offense, officially became ECU’s starting quarterback in the third week of the season and never relinquished the position the last 10 games. He finished his regular season ranking second in the league in passing efficiency (144.93) and sixth in total offense (242.58). Carden completed 248-of-371 attempts for 2,838 yards and 21 passing touchdowns, while leading the squad with eight rushing touchdowns. Carden tied a school-record with five passing touchdowns against Memphis. He threw for 386 yards and two scores against UAB before connecting on 38-of-47 passes (81 percent) for a program-standard 439 yards and three touchdowns against Marshall. He also was able to record three rushing scores in the game, including the game-winner on a one-yard sneak in the second overtime.
Elsawi, the team’s starting left tackle, has served as the anchor on the opposite side of the line to Simmons. After playing both guard and tackle in his first year with the program, the Campbell transfer found a home as a fixture on the left in his second year and aided the Pirates to rank among C-USA’s top-six in passing efficiency (4th), passing offense (5th), fewest sacks allowed (5th), total offense (6th) and scoring offense (6th). The ECU offense has also totaled 400 yards or more on five occasions this season, including a 600-yard performance (214 rush and 386 passing) against UAB.
Pegues was another stalwart along the defensive line for the Pirates, appearing in all 12 games with 11 starts primarily at the defensive end slot. Among all linemen, Pegues ranks third on the team in tackles with 31. He is also tied for third among all defenders in tackles for lost yardage with 4.5. He recovered the first fumble of his career against UTEP, tied his career-high with six stops against Memphis and tallied two tackles for lost yardage among his four stops against UAB.
For the second-straight season, Grove earned honorable mention selection to the league’s all-conference team. He placed second on the team with 71 tackles and 36 solo stops, while ranking tied for third with 4.5 stops for lost yardage. Grove’s 52 tackles on running plays were the most on the team this season. The inside linebacker tallied nine tackles and forced the first two fumbles of his career in ECU’s 2012 opener against Appalachian State. Grove posted the second of five nine-stop outings against North Carolina before providing similar results against Southern Miss, UCF and Memphis.
Magazu offered the Pirates a constant and steady presence in the secondary by leading the team both tackles, 72, and solo stops, 37. Magazu has also recorded five pass breakups and an interception. Seven times he tallied six or more tackles in a game. The free safety tied his career high with 12 tackles against Navy, knocked away three passes against Houston and recorded seven tackles and an interception against Marshall.
Harvey has successfully converted 11 of his last 12 field goal attempts and all 46 extra points this season. He is tied for sixth in the conference in field goals per game (1.08) and is ninth in the league in scoring (7.08). Harvey is 11-for-12 (91.6 percent) on field goal tries between 20 and 39 yards and his longest three-pointer was from 54 yards at the end of the first half against UAB.
Tignor is sixth in the conference with his average of 42.4 yards a kick. He has also placed 12 of his kicks inside the 20 and delivered eight punts that traveled 50 yards or more, including a long of 65 against Navy. Tignor was named the C-USA Special Teams Player-of-the-Week on Sept. 17 after his strong performance against Southern Miss when he punted 10 times for 422 yards and placed three inside the 20. He was an honorable mention selection to the College Football Performance Awards list after averaging 52.5 yards a boot against Navy.
The league’s individual awards will be released Wednesday, December 5. Conference USA will conclude its 2012 season by sending five teams to bowl games.
2012 All-Conference USA Teams