COLUMBIA, S.C. – Fortunately, for South Carolina, former Florida coach Will Muschamp had no idea who Hayden Hurst was in 2012.
Though it may not have mattered a whole lot to Hurst, a former two-sport star from The Bolles School in Jacksonville, Fla.
As Muschamp prepared for the start of his second season with the Gators, Hurst, a 17th round draft pick by the Pittsburgh Pirates, turned down a scholarship to play baseball at Florida State and accepted a $400,000 signing bonus to play professionally.
Hurst made one relief appearance for the Pirates Gulf Coast League team in 2013, giving up one run and five walks over 1/3 inning. The next season, Hurst batted .245 with 2 RBI in 15 games as a first baseman for the GCL Pirates.
Sights were then set on a return to the gridiron. Thanks to a connection between Columbia and Gainesville, Hurst walked on to the South Carolina football team as a wide receiver.
“Gary Condron, I think the Florida indoor is named after him – he is a very good friend of their family,” Muschamp said. “When baseball didn’t work out for Hayden, he was looking for some different things. His father talked to Gary and they wanted to explore some different things. They looked at Florida, Florida State, I’m assuming, and baseball was paying for his school at the time.
“Fortunately, there was an opportunity to come here because obviously Gary had a really good relationship with (associate athletic director) Jamie Speronis and coach (Steve) Spurrier. That’s where the connection was made. (They) were able to have him come in here as a walk-on, and thank goodness, he’s a heck of a football player.”
Through five games with Muschamp, Hurst leads South Carolina with 24 receptions for 302 yards. Among tight ends in the nation, he’s fourth in receptions and fourth in receiving yards.
“Hayden is a big, fast guy. He’s so big that you don’t get a chance to see his elusiveness,” said linebacker Bryson Allen-Williams. “But if you let Hayden in the open field, he’s very elusive.”
Maybe it’s not too far outside of the box to think that Hurst is capable of returning punts for the Gamecocks.
“Sunday, I fielded a few,” he told reporters on Tuesday. “Then, today – that’s what I just got in from – I was catching about 10-15 balls. It’s going well. It’s kind of like catching a fly-ball. There’s a few things that are different, but I feel comfortable doing it.”
But it’s been a while since Hurst has returned a punt during a game. He didn’t even return punts at Bolles.
“I did it when I was younger,” Hurst said, “But like coach said, I’m not out there to take one of the house. But I’m there to just keep possession of the football.”