Oct. 26, 2016
Second lives come around in sports now and again. Not taking his for granted, Hayden Hurst relishes the chance he’s been given to live one out now.
A former 17th-round draft pick of the Pittsburgh Pirates, Hurst spent two years on the diamond in the rookie-level Gulf Coast League before coming back to the sport he loves.
“When I was a kid,” remarked Hurst, “football was always my first sport. It came naturally to me. Baseball I played, and I was pretty good at it. Football was always No. 1 for me.”
And he hasn’t shown any rust after being away from the gridiron for that time. “It hasn’t been that tough; it’s just been like riding a bike.”
The Jacksonville, Fla., native used some local connections to find his way to Columbia and into the Garnet and Black.
“It was last Feb. (of 2015),” recounted Hurst. “I got in contact with Perry (Orth) and told him what was going on as far as baseball and my struggles. He was really the one that got the ball rolling. He called Jamie (Speronis, Associate AD for Football Operations) and talked to Steve Spurrier, Jr. He (Spurrier, Jr.) came up to my high school (The Bolles School in Jacksonville, where he was working out), saw me practice and told me to come on up.”
While Hurst has looked comfortable this year, he said last year wasn’t quite as easy. Both aspects he had trouble with came in part to the change in sports.
“Last year, it was tough just learning football again,” Hurst said, “getting the play calls and playing in hostile environments. This year, I have the playbook down by heart, and I’m just playing football now, just being an athlete.”
After spending time at wide receiver in high school and early on at South Carolina, Hurst is doing more than just settling in at tight end. He’s become one of the biggest contributors on the Gamecocks’ roster, leading the team in receptions (30) and receiving yards (388). He’s even been named as one of 30 on the John Mackey Award Midseason Watch List, given out to the best tight end at the end of the year. Hurst has modeled his game after a true great.
“My main guy (as a tight end) that I’ve always looked up was Jeremy Shockey, because I was big Miami fan growing up,” said Hurst. “Hopefully I can mimic his game a little bit, because he was pretty successful.”
Hurst, drafted as a pitcher, even stepped up earlier this year and hit a halfback pass, completing his only attempt as a Gamecock. As for looking back to the diamond, he has no regrets leaving baseball behind, even as the MLB postseason gets ready for its climax.
“To be completely honest, I don’t miss (baseball) one bit. Getting to come out here and play football and live out a second dream, I feel pretty humble to be able to do that.”
And if another pro league like the NFL came calling?
“If I was able to pull off and get drafted again … that’s the goal right now.”
With what he’s contributing, that second set of scouts will be calling when the time comes.
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