Josh Kendall

‘Can we?’ New rule provides new NFL opportunity at USC

South Carolina Gamecocks tight end Hayden Hurst (81) looks to run after a catch in the first half against UMass.
South Carolina Gamecocks tight end Hayden Hurst (81) looks to run after a catch in the first half against UMass. gmelendez@thestate.com

For the first time, current collegiate players are being allowed to participate in Pro Days around the country alongside NFL Draft eligible players working out for professional scouts.

For the three South Carolina players who are taking advantage of the opportunity, “participate” might be too strong a word. Sneak peek is a better description.

Tight end Hayden Hurst, offensive lineman Zack Bailey and wide receiver Deebo Samuel will meet with the scouts and have their height, weight and other size measurables tallied but aren’t expected to do any drills with their former teammates at Williams-Brice Stadium on Tuesday.

“I just kind of want to get my name out there,” Hurst said. “It’s an opportunity for us to get looks. I’m excited to see what it was all about.”

Sixteen former Gamecocks, including offensive lineman Mason Zandi, defensive end Darius English and place-kicker Elliott Fry, will try to impress NFL scouts Tuesday with their bench press, 40-yard dash, vertical and broad jumps numbers while also going through position-specific drills.

Hurst learned before South Carolina’s bowl game in December that a rule change was possible but didn’t find out until Sunday night that he definitely would be participating, he said. Bailey and Samuel only learned last week, they said.

“They said, ‘You’re going to do pro day.’ I was like, ‘OK,’ ” Bailey said. “It was kind of a shock to me, but it was exciting at the same time. At first I was like, ‘Wait a minute, can we?’ They said new rules came in, and it’s just to get you out there more for the NFL to see. It was awesome. I felt kind of privileged to do it.”

The rule change is designed to allow NFL teams to gather more information on collegiate underclassmen so that they can better advise players who are considering leaving college early. Hurst, Bailey and Samuel all will be eligible to enter the NFL Draft following the 2017 season but will also have collegiate eligibility remaining.

“For some guys that want to get out early, this definitely opens the door a lot more for them getting that visibility and meeting some of the coaches, getting on their board so we are on their radar,” Bailey said.

Bailey has not given much thought to his eventual decision, he said.

Bailey and Samuel said Monday they won’t do any on-field work for the scouts, while Hurst indicated he would make his final decision after talking to strength coach Jeff Dillman. The Gamecocks practice Tuesday morning.

Samuel, for whom an impressive 40-yard dash time will be especially important in terms of draft stock, wants to be in peak physical condition when he runs for NFL personnel, he said.

“The competitive part of me wants to, but coming right out of practice I don’t know if it would be the smartest thing,” Hurst said.

Hurst watched this year’s NFL Combine with particular interest, he said.

“I watched some other guys but mainly focused on the tight ends to see where I would measure up,” he said. “Some of those guys are pretty impressive.”

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