Hurst, Heels hyped for new season
South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney delivered the biggest hit of the 2012 college football season in his last game when he flattened Michigan running back Vincent Smith, sending Smith’s helmet and the ball flying to the ground.
When the Gamecocks open the college football season on Aug. 29 by hosting border rival North Carolina, many fans will want be watching just to see what Clowney can do for an encore.
“Everybody in the country has seen it (the hit),” UNC coach Larry Fedora said. “Ninety-nine percent of the people out there in the world are going to turn the TV on that night to see what No. 7 (Clowney) does to No. 2 (Tar Heels quarterback Bryn Renner).”
The person most responsible for making sure those people are disappointed is UNC senior left tackle James Hurst, who spent the team’s preseason media day the same way he’s spent most media sessions this summer – talking about Clowney.
“Gosh, a couple weeks ago I did 4-5 interviews and they were all based around that matchup, and it’s only going to increase as we get closer,” Hurst said. “He’s a great player, everybody knows that. He’s going to get all the hype and it’s well deserved.”
Even when Hurst isn’t talking about Clowney, the consensus No. 1 pick in the 2014 NFL Draft and a contender for the Heisman Trophy, he’s thinking about him and using the matchup as motivation.
“You realize you’re also playing the best player in college football in Week 1, so I don’t have any time to waste,” Hurst said. “I can’t wait until tomorrow to do something, today is the day. That’s the mindset I’ve taken this whole offseason.”
During SEC media days, Clowney said that he could tell Clemson quarterback Tajh Boyd, Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray and former Arkansas quarterback Tyler Wilson were scared to face him last season.
Hurst said he hasn’t talked with Renner about Clowney, and he doesn’t need to.
“He trusts me to do my job,” Hurst said. “I trust him to be able to get the ball out on time.”
Renner has good reason to trust Hurst. The fourth-year starter was a preseason all-ACC selection by the media, receiving the second-most votes of any offensive lineman in the conference.
Hurst also has experience matching up with current NFL defensive ends such as Clemson’s Da’Quan Bowers and former teammates Robert Quinn and Quinton Coples.
Hurst’s biggest concern at the moment is building chemistry and communication with freshman left guard Caleb Peterson, sophomore right guard Landon Turner and sophomore right tackle Kiaro Holts – all of whom are replacing players that were picked in the 2013 NFL Draft.
Fedora said that the offensive line usually takes more time to gel than other units. But unlike previous years, when UNC opened with FCS programs, these linemen won’t have time to grow into their new roles.
“We’re looking forward to the challenge,” Hurst said. “We know people are going to be looking at us because we lost three draft picks, so people are going to expect us to come out there and fall on our face, so we like the challenge.”
Hurst compared it to his freshman year, when the Tar Heels played another nationally-televised opener against LSU in the Georgia Dome. With many of its top players suspended, UNC was a heavy underdog but came within six yards of scoring the winning touchdown as time expired in a 30-24 loss.
The Tar Heels, and Hurst, have another chance to shock an SEC opponent to start this season.
“Really it’s just a cool opportunity to get this much hype around an opening game,” Hurst said. “It’s cool to be in a situation like this. I think a lot of people would want to be in it, so I’m just going to try and relish it.”