South Carolina tight end Hayden Hurst has decided to skip his final year of eligibility with the Gamecocks in order to enter the 2018 NFL Draft.
Hurst, a 6-foot-5, 250-pound junior who joined South Carolina as a walk-on after spending two years in the Pittsburgh Pirates minor league system, is the Gamecocks second-leading receiver with 41 catches for 518 yards and two touchdowns. He also has seven carries for 37 yards and one touchdown this season.
Hurst, 24, announced his decision Thursday on social media with a poster headlined, “Thank you Gamecock Nation.”
“I have been searching for the right way to announce my decision without being a distraction to my team during the season, but after many questions I wanted the announcement to come from me personally,” Hurst wrote. “After sitting down with my family and coach (Will) Muschamp I have decided to declare for the 2018 NFL Draft after this season.”
Hurst plans to play in the Outback Bowl on Jan. 1 when South Carolina (8-4) faces Michigan (8-4) in Tampa, Fla., at noon, according to a source.
“This was one of the hardest choices I have ever had to make because of how special South Carolina is to me,” Hurst wrote in his announcement. “This university has completely changed my life and leaving next month will be extremely hard, but I am on to pursuing my next dream and representing Gamecock Nation wherever I end up.”
The note was signed, “Forever To Thee, Hayden Hurst.”
Earlier this week, Hurst was named first-team All-SEC. He is one three tight ends in school history with more than 1,000 career yards receiving, joining Jared Cook and Danny Smith, and he was a semifinalist this year for the John Mackey Award, which goes to the nation’s top tight end. He could be as high as a second-round draft pick in the upcoming draft, a source with ties to the NFL told The State this week.
“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 earlier this season. “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.”
Hurst has 97 catches for 1,240 yards in his three years with the Gamecocks. That leaves him 96 yards shy of the Smith’s school record for 1,336 yards by a tight end. Hurst already holds USC’s single-season records for catches (48) and yards (616) by a tight end. He set both of those marks last season.