Hayden Hurst played tight end and wide receiver in high school in Florida, but the coaching points didn’t go much beyond “go out” and “get open.”
When Hurst arrived at South Carolina as a walk-on to the football team in 2015, the Gamecocks asked him to play some tight end and some wide receiver in his first year, but he quickly learned the positions were nothing like the positions he had played in high school even they were called the same thing.
“When I started off last year at tight end, it was a little tough,” said Hurst, a 6-foot-5, 221-pound sophomore. “They are taking the time and teaching the fundamentals, which is what I really need. I think that’s key for me.”
Hurst, 22, spent two seasons in the Pittsburgh Pirates organization before joining South Carolina’s football team. At The Bolles School in Jacksonville, Fla., he was a 2012 Rawlings second-team All-American as a pitcher, the Pirates selected him in the 17th round. He played two seasons in the rookie Gulf Coast League as a pitcher and first baseman before deciding to reboot his football career at South Carolina.
He realized then that he was essentially starting at square one with the sport.
“They are teaching me the basics, and I feel like I’m coming along very well,” he said.
Hurst caught eight passes for 106 yards while learning on the job last year. He is playing exclusively tight end under new head coach Will Muschamp, which means he can expect a bigger role this year in new offensive coordinator Kurt Roper’s system. The tight ends in Roper’s system fill multiple roles and often are in motion.
“It’s a lot different (than last year’s offense),” Hurst said. “We are all over the formation. There are some times we’re on the wing, there are some times we’re split out wide, there’s some times where we’re at fullback. It’s a lot different from last year, but I’m excited about it.”
Hurst estimates the tight ends have averaged four touches per drive during the first two weeks of spring practice. South Carolina installed its one tight end plays in week one and two tight end plays in week two, he said.
“I think the position has got a vital role in the offense,” he said. “I love it. I absolutely love it.”
Hurst entered the spring listed as a co-starter along with Kyle Markway and Kevin Crosby, and all three have split snaps evenly this spring, he said.
“To see the position open is just going to make me work harder than I already do,” he said.
Regardless of who wins the starting job, all three can expect a role this fall.
“We’d like to have two or three ready to go,” Roper said.
Hurst has added enough strength that he know feels competent as a blocker, and he’d like to get even better by the fall, he said.
“I want to get in there and get the blocking down. I think that’s the biggest thing,” he said. “I think I proved last year that I’m able to get open and catch the ball, but blocking is the biggest thing I need to work on.”