Trying to Catch On
Aug. 20, 2015
Hayden Hurst has already lived one dream, and now he’s chasing another. The walk-on tight end isn’t your typical freshman. After a couple of years in professional baseball, the Jacksonville, Florida, native traded in his fastball for a football and hopes to make an impact for the Gamecocks on the gridiron.
“I gave baseball everything I had,” Hurst said. “I really tried, and it just didn’t work out, so I’m OK with that. No regrets. I was drafted as a pitcher in 2012, and I had some issues with my control. That sort of took out the love of the game for me. They switched me to first base, and I didn’t enjoy it as much so I decided I wanted to come back and play football. Growing up, I had some really good friends from high school whose grandfather played football here, so it rubbed off on me, and here I am. I love it up here.”
Hurst was encouraged to come to South Carolina by Gamecock quarterback Perry Orth, who played his high school football close to Hurst in Ponte Vedra, Florida.
“I started talking to him, and he convinced me to come up here,” Hurst said. “We never played together on the same team, but we played against each other beginning at age 12. He thought my size as a tight end would be a good fit here.”
Hurst played wide receiver in high school, but at 6’5″ and 252 pounds, he certainly looks the part of a college tight end, and he feels that his past experience translates well into his new role on the football field.
“It wasn’t too difficult to adjust back to football,” Hurst said. “I’ve always had a football mindset. Perry introduced me to the playbook and the routes. So I’ve just been knocking the rust off since May. Back in high school, we ran the ball a lot, so I was used to hitting and blocking the bigger guys. I’m just trying to get used to the technique again. I’m working a lot at blocking and catching, and I think my speed will help me a little bit.”
As he tries to make his way up on the depth chart behind the more experienced players, Hurst is beginning to make a name for himself with his teammates.
“Some of the defensive backs call me ‘White Lightening,'” Hurst laughed. “That one has kind of stuck around.”
Even though he’s a freshman and hadn’t played in a long time, his maturity and work ethic all summer long and in the weight room have been very impressive.G.A. Mangus, QB and TE coach
Hurst admits that football is his first love, and although he played both sports at The Bolles School in Jacksonville, it was baseball that gave him a big opportunity first when the Pittsburgh Pirates selected him in the 17th of the Major League Baseball draft during his senior year.
“It wasn’t too hard to make the decision to go pro,” Hurst said. “It was the right decision at the time. I was able to take the money and go pursue a dream at 18 years old. I gave it shot, and it didn’t work out. So college is here for me so I can do that now. The Pirates instill a good work ethic in you, and that’s the one thing I’m glad I took from them. The hard part about professional baseball is that it is 24/7. You don’t have any days off, and it’s really a grind.”
With baseball behind him, Hurst carries a unique perspective that could benefit his teammates.
“My father, Jerry, had a big impact on me,” Hurst said. “He instilled a good work ethic in me early on, and he’s been with me every step of the way. My parents understood my decision to stop playing baseball and come to school. They’ve backed every decision I’ve made in my life. I’ve been out there and had a job and have experienced some things that some of the other younger freshmen haven’t. I have a little different perspective on life at this point. I think that can help. You want to enjoy the time you have here. Once you leave here, life gets pretty real. It speeds up on you.”
That perspective hasn’t been lost on South Carolina’s quarterbacks and tight ends coach, G.A. Mangus, who said that, excluding special teams, he could typically use as many as three tight ends during the course of the game. While Hurst is still learning a lot, Mangus noted that his maturity is definitely something positive he brings to the team.
“You can tell he’s a little bit of an older guy,” Mangus said. “Even though he’s a freshman and hadn’t played in a long time, his maturity and work ethic all summer long and in the weight room have been very impressive. He’s an impressive young man, and once that light goes on for him, I think he’s got a chance to be a pretty good player.”
With the 2015 season quickly approaching, Hurst looks forward to living another dream and running on to the field at Williams-Brice Stadium on game day to the sounds of ‘2001.’
“I came to the Georgia game here last year, but I can only imagine what it’s like to really run out of the tunnel,” Hurst said. “I think catching a touchdown pass in front of 90,000 people would make you feel pretty alive.”
Although one career ended, and new one is just beginning, Hurst has already set a good example with the wise decision to keep his baseball signing bonus in the bank.
“I have not spent any of it,” Hurst grinned. “I’m sitting on it. My father taught me to think about the future. He told me to save and set up my future. There’s no need to splurge and spend money on a car or a boat and then regret it later. You’ve got to think about depreciation and things like that.”
In terms of having a good work ethic, that’s something that never gets old, even for a 22-year-old freshman.