South Carolina junior tight end Hayden Hurst hasn’t revealed his plans for next football season, but one SEC coach predicted Saturday that this would be Hurst’s final year of playing for the Gamecocks.
“I don’t how many catches he’s had on us in two years, but he’s gone, isn’t he?” Georgia coach Kirby Smart said after the No. 2 Bulldogs beat South Carolina 24-10.
Smart was more hoping that Hurst would leave early for the NFL than predicting it, but it’s reasonable speculation considering the year Hurst is having. He had a career-high 93 yards on seven catches against the Bulldogs, giving him 13 catches for 179 yards in the last two games against Georgia.
“He’s physical, he’s tough, he catches everything around him, a really good player,” Smart said.
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Hurst even threw two passes against the Bulldogs. Neither was complete but one resulted in a first down on a pass intended for linebacker Skai Moore on a fake punt. His second pass, which came on the next play, covered nearly 50 yards, going from one sideline to the other after he caught a lateral from quarterback Jake Bentley on the right and tried to connect with A.J. Turner down the left sideline. The pass was broken up by a Georgia defensive back.
“Coach Roper believed it was a good play, and we wanted to take a shot,” said Hurst, who was a minor league baseball pitcher before joining the Gamecocks football team.
The Gamecocks (6-3 overall, 4-3 SEC) take on Florida (3-5, 3-4) on Saturday at noon in Williams-Brice Stadium.
Hurst, 6-foot-5, 250 pounds, completed two passes last season, one against Texas A&M and one against Western Kentucky, but it’s catching the ball where he has had the most value for South Carolina. In three seasons, he has 86 catches for 1,143 yards and three touchdowns. He’s also rushed seven times for 33 yards and a touchdown.
“He’s a great competitor no matter if he’s catching seven balls or he’s catching one,” South Carolina head coach Will Muschamp said. “He’s going to compete and play hard, he’s going to block. He’s having a fantastic year for us. He’s certainly a leader of our football team, a guy you can rely on in clutch situations, not just from a playmaking standpoint but a leadership standpoint and how he represents our football team. He’s about all the right things in college athletics.”
Certainly the type of player Muschamp would like to have back next season for his senior year. Hurst has been mum on his future but was one of three South Carolina underclassmen – along with wide receiver Deebo Samuel and offensive lineman Zack Bailey – to participate in an early NFL evaluation process that coincided with the team’s Pro Day in the spring.
“You know what you are going to get out of Hayden,” Muschamp said. “He’s a guy who’s a tremendous competitor, competes at a high level, does a nice job blocking, does a nice job in the passing game, does a nice job in everything he does.”
Hurst, who had three catches for 63 yards against the Gators last year, was only talking team after the Georgia game.
“We are coming along into a pretty competitive group,” he said. “It’s exciting.”