"He got his chance, and has made the most of it. I think it was his first pre-season game against the Jets (on Monday Night Football) when he caught three touchdown passes to break a record. Unfortunately, last year he was hurt and missed most of the season, but now he'll have to be reckoned with in the Super Bowl."
Zardas said the 6-foot-1, 210-pound Ihedigbo — known as "Diggs" — was also a very gifted player and a natural leader. This season, his 69 tackles (46 of them solo) are fifth-best for New England.
"He was always a very vocal and an inspirational speaker who got the team up before games," Zardas said. "He's a hometown kid from Amherst who excelled and was the face of our program at the time.
"James was a captain his senior year, and everybody looked up to him. When he was with the Jets, they used him mostly on special teams and a couple of packages on defense. But he seems to fit right in (starting in the secondary) with the Patriots."
Zardas is a lifelong Pats fan, but his emotions will be torn on Super Bowl Sunday. He isn't sure yet whether he will make the trip to Indianapolis.
"I'll probably sit at my house and watch," he admitted. "I've been on the sidelines enough times, but I will follow the game very closely.
"Either way things turn out is a win-win for me. To see Victor get a ring would be special. He's going to be a big matchup problem for the Patriots because he's so athletic. The Giants are skilled and they've got some great receivers that can create problems for the secondary. It's amazing how Cruz has shared or even stolen the spotlight when he's with some wide receiver Pro Bowlers."