Photo: Nya Green / The Daily Gamecock

Hayden Hurst continuing to grow on the field, lead off the field

A year ago, if you told Hayden Hurst he'd be at SEC Media Days, he likely would've been surprised. 

Hurst has since put his name in the conversation of the nation's best tight ends, an unexpected turn for a guy who spent three years chasing baseball dreams in the Pittsburgh Pirates organization.

“This has all happened to me so fast," Hurst said, "leaving baseball and now being in the position that the coaches have allowed me to be in."

Things didn't slow down during the 2016 season, as Hurst finished second among SEC tight ends with 616 passing yards, ranking him behind only Evan Engram, a first-rounder in April's NFL Draft. Off the field, Hurst's life experience helped him become a permanent team captain, the first sophomore to ever do so. 

"He brings an element of maturity to the group," Muschamp said of Hurst, "and because baseball didn't work for him, he chose another avenue, and so to have that maturity on our football team, to see his work ethic and the example he sets for the younger players is invaluable for me as a coach."

On the field, Hurst, who will be 24 by the season opener, has plenty of room to grow. Last season was his first at the tight end position, as he was listed as he played his high school position of wide receiver in 2015. 

In the locker room though, Hurst seems to be established. Muschamp wasn't the only one to praise the tight end, as Jake Bentley said he models his work ethic after Hurst's and Deebo Samuel called him one of the leaders on the offense. 

With an abundance of offensive weapons, it's unclear how much more of an impact Hurst can have on the field compared to last season. However, the Gamecocks can certainly count on the "Thor" (as Bentley calls him) to provide crucial leadership for the young team. 

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