After making the decision to declare for the National Football League draft, South Carolina tight end Hayden Hurst then made the decision that he would not skip the Gamecocks' contest against Michigan in the Outback Bowl on Jan. 1 to avoid the …
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After making the decision to declare for the National Football League draft, South Carolina tight end Hayden Hurst then made the decision that he would not skip the Gamecocks' contest against Michigan in the Outback Bowl on Jan. 1 to avoid the possibility of injury.
"It's just something me and my dad talked about," said Hurst, the junior tight end, who is projected as a second- or third-round pick. "I want to finish what I started, I never want to sit out a game. Don't think I have that in me.
"I just want to come in and work hard and not take anything away from the season."
Now he wants to do what he can to help USC, 8-4 on the season, to a victory in his final game.
That would be huge, a huge statement for the program and where (Carolina head) Coach (Will) Muschamp is going to take it.," Hurst said. "I think it would be the seventh team in school history with nine wins."
Hurst, of course, isn't your typical college junior. He had three years of professional baseball experience in the Pittsburgh Pirates organization before trying his hand at college football. He walked on at South Carolina in 2015, became a starter in 2016 and set school records for tight ends with 48 catches and 616 receiving yards.
Entering the contest against the 8-4 Wolverines, the 6-foot-5-inch Hurst has 41 catches for 518 yards and two touchdowns. He's also rushed seven times for 37 yards and another score.
That has led the 24-year-old Hurst to being selected as a first team All-Southeastern Conference performer by both The Associated Press and the SEC coaches. It is not lost on Hurst as to where he was to where he is now.
"I owe everything I've become to this university," Hurst said. "I came on as a walk-on and not many people knew who I was. I had a dream, had a vision and I worked every day to try and make it happen. Coach Muschamp and his staff came in here and gave me an opportunity and I kind of ran with it."
Hurst had little success, first as a pitcher and then a first baseman, in the minors. However, he thinks the baseball struggles have helped him develop as a football player.
As bad as it was and as much I hated it, I think it helped me," Hurst said. "I don't take anything for granted.
"Looking back on it, I'm thankful for what happened. It gave me the work ethic I have today. I mean, pretty hard times for three years, but it led me to this place, and it really changed my life."
The Gamecocks arrived in Tampa, Fla., on Tuesday to begin game week preparations for the Outback Bowl. They had a walk-through on Tuesday and begin their regular prep schedule today at 11 a.m.
Muschamp said that offensive coordinator Bryan McClendon will call the plays from the press box. McClendon was named the OC for the Outback Bowl following the dismissal of Kurt Roper.
"It's the first time (McClendon) has called a game, so obviously it will be different," Muschamp said. "It's a calmer environment (in the box). You're able to see things a lot better from an adjustment standpoint, but we've got people assigned on every snap on where their eyes need to be as far as making sure we're getting the correct information about different looks."
Muschamp said USC put its in game plan during practices last week in Columbia.
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