CHAPEL HILL, N.C. — James Hurst hasn’t sought it out, but he hasn’t needed to, either. Like anyone else who closely follows college football, Hurst, the North Carolina left tackle, is familiar with the play.
By now Hurst can recite the action. He can envision Jadeveon Clowney, the South Carolina defensive end, streaking through the offensive line unblocked and exploding through Michigan running back Vincent Smith, who has become but a footnote to the most memorable play in college football last season.
The Clowney hit — describe it that way and Google does the rest — came during South Carolina’s victory in January in the Outback Bowl. The highlight has nearly 4 million views on YouTube, an average of about 13 per minute since it was posted Jan. 1. None of those clicks, though, has come from Hurst, who will be the first to stand in Clowney’s way this season when UNC plays at USC on Aug. 29.
Hurst said he has seen the clip “over and over and over again” on ESPN. Because of that, he can diagnose with ease what went right for Clowney, and what went wrong for Michigan’s line.
“The right guard, from what I’ve seen, was supposed to pull to him,” Hurst said. “But he was either too slow or didn’t see him or something.”
That hit has become Clowney’s signature.
Hurst, though, doesn’t speak in awed tones about the first — and likely best — defensive end he’ll face this season. Bring up what Clowney did against Smith, the helpless Michigan running back, and Hurst might crack a joke.
“We’re not going to put that play in,” Hurst said. “The don’t-block-Clowney play. That probably won’t be very successful for us. But yeah, he’s a playmaker and you can’t just let one play go by thinking it’s not going to matter.”
Portions of college football schedules often are decided years in advance. It has been understood for a while, for instance, that UNC would begin the 2013 season against the Gamecocks. And so Hurst has known, for a while, that the first game of his senior season would bring the most difficult test he has ever endured.
Through no doing of his own, the Clowney hype machine has been roaring. He has been the focus of magazine covers and preseason college football shows. It seems like every starting quarterback on South Carolina’s schedule has been asked: Are you afraid to play against Jadeveon Clowney? Mark Richt, the Georgia coach, recently described Clowney as the best football player in the world. College, pro – anywhere.
What must it be like, then, to wake up every morning one day closer to playing against the one player everyone in the country can’t wait to watch? And to know that the meeting will come in front of a national audience, in ESPN’s first nationally televised Thursday night game of the season? Only Hurst, himself a potential All-American, knows.
“I think James Hurst has probably heard more about Jadaveon Clowney than all of us put together,” Larry Fedora, the UNC coach, recently said at the ACC’s annual football kickoff.
Fedora’s observation might be true. Few people who know Hurst have passed up the chance to remind him. Hurst will be facing a player who could be the first pick in the 2014 NFL Draft. But Clowney, too, will be facing a
If things go to plan, Hurst could follow Clowney in the first round of the NFL draft next April.