The strongest man on the South Carolina football team might be up for debate, but there’s no question as to who has changed the culture in the weight room.
“You can just look at Hayden [Hurst] and tell he’s the strongest,” sophomore quarterback Jake Bentley said of the 6-foot-5, 250-pound junior tight end from Jacksonville, Fla. “He looks like Thor or something. He’s always in the weight room. I swear, he does stuff three times a day, but the great thing about that is people see that.
“They see how hard he’s working and they want to be like him. They want to work just as hard as he is.”
Hurst, who once played minor league baseball in the Pittsburgh Pirates’ organization, is no stranger to hard work. According to Bentley, his drive has made a strong impression on their teammates.
“It’s been incredible to see the amount of guys who come in for extra work this year and really just grind away,” Bentley said. “I think it stems from him, because last year, he was the only one. Now, it’s the whole team in the weight room in the afternoons doing extra stuff.”
Coach Will Muschamp told reporters at SEC Media Days that it’s a “delight to coach” Hurst. While on-field production might have something to do with Muschamp’s thought — 48 catches for 616 yards and a touchdown in 2016 — it’s the stuff that Hurst does the other 353 days during the year that helps set him apart.
“The guy lives in the weight room,” Muschamp said. “If he’s not there, he’s in the film room. He’s asking questions. He is as coachable a guy as there is on our football team, and that I’ve been associated with.”
Hurst pointed to the other side of the ball when asked to size up the strongest Gamecock.
“Pound-for-pound, Skai (Moore’s) got to be up there,” Hurst said of the 6-foot-2, 218-pound linebacker from Cooper City, Fla. “He just has natural strength. He hasn’t missed a beat. He gets in the weight room and he’s power-cleaning 330 pounds. He has not missed a beat. He’s a very strong, athletic guy.”
Hurst added, “I know people are questioning Skai. Do not worry about Skai, because I had to face him every single day in practice. He’s the same old 10, I promise you. He will come and hit you, no matter what. He is an absolute freak. Wherever the ball is, he finds it.”
Junior wide receiver Deebo Samuel gave the nod to 6-foot-4, 316-pound freshman offensive lineman Sadarius Hutcherson, whom Hurst credited with a 560-pound bench press. Hurst, for the record, maxed out 405.