USC Gamecocks Football

Hayden Hurst leans on baseball background in punt return role

USC gives Hayden Hurst a look at punt return

South Carolina tight end Hayden Hurst discusses his transition to catching punts for the Gamecocks.
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South Carolina tight end Hayden Hurst discusses his transition to catching punts for the Gamecocks.

Gamecocks tight end Hayden Hurst threw a pass last week. Now he’s being pulled toward taking on another role.

The former minor league baseball player closed Tuesday’s practice fielding around 15 punts, possibly a solution at a problem area for the team. The Gamecocks have neither been consistent nor sure-handed at the spot, muffing two against Texas A&M.

“I don’t think they are necessarily expecting me to take one 100 yards,” Hurst said. “They just want possession of the ball.”

He got a text messsage asking if he could field punts from a grad assistant on Sunday night leading into the Georgia game.

“I said, ‘Well it’s pretty much like catching a fly ball,’ I have done it before,” Hurst said. “What I am working on right now, I want to catch it on the side. ... So right now I am just trying to square it up and take possession of the football.”

Thus far, three different players – corners Jamarcus King and Rashad Fenton, plus wide receiver Deebo Samuel – have returned at least one punt. No return has been longer than seven yards and the team is averaging 3.6 yards per return.

Despite South Carolina’s offensive struggles, Hurst has emerged as a bell cow and consistent target in a banged-up cast of receivers. His 24 receptions and 302 yards lead the team, and he has double the catches and 200 more yards than everyone else but tight end K.C. Crosby.

Josh Kendall contributed to this report

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