Season Wrap-up: James Hurst

For his senior season, North Carolina pledge James Hurst stepped into the leadership role for Plainfield (Ind.).

"Throughout his high school career, he's been fortunate enough to play on some very good football teams with some incredible leaders," Plainfield coach Brian Woodard said. "He's really been in a position where he had to step up and be a vocal leader; that's something that he did a much better job of this year. I felt that was probably an area that he improved the most."

Hurst's leadership helped Plainfield to an 8-4 record and the third round of the IHSAA Class 4A playoffs.

"[The season] didn't go according to plan, but we had a lot of fun – I can say that much," Hurst said. "I wish we could have won one of our championships – we had a chance for two: [conference and state]."

Nationally ranked Indianapolis (Ind.) Cathedral prevented Plainfield from advancing past the third round.

"I thought that we had a good game plan going in," Woodard said. "I thought, for the most part, we executed our game plan really well. But unfortunately, it was a case of they had a few better players than we did."

"They were just a better team," Hurst added. "We played well, but it would have been real tough to beat them."

Schematically, Hurst, a 6-foot-6, 284-pounder, was the centerpiece of Plainfield's offense.

"The thing about James, for really the past two seasons, has been: he's such a dominant player that everybody knew where we were going with the ball," Woodard said. "Very rarely did we opt from that game plan of running the ball behind James.

"It was difficult game planning sometimes, because we knew we were going to face defenses that were aligned to take that away from us... It was like having a great tailback and everybody knew he was getting the ball."

To compensate, Hurst, who graded at 98-percent for the season, lined up at several different positions throughout a game.

"That's one of the good things we did this year: we didn't let teams pinpoint where he would be on any given snap," Woodard said. "We tried to move him around and be as creative as you could possibly be with an offensive lineman – it's not like he's a wide receiver and you could put him in motion...

"I think he played just about every position up front for us, with the exception of center. We played a lot of unbalanced sets; so sometimes James would even line up in the tight end spot."

Hurst began the season starting both ways. However, to keep him fresher on offense, he eventually became a situational player on defense.

"It really helped us become a better team offensively and we were still able to play very well on defense, too," Woodard said. "Had we not made that decision, we probably wouldn't have made it to the third round of the playoffs."

Woodard estimates Hurst still played over 50-percent of a game's defensive snaps. He typically subbed in at tackle or end on third-downs and goal line situations. He ended the season with two sacks.

"A guy as tall as me can get his hands up and get into passing lanes," Hurst said. "In high school it's a lot more effective than in college or the NFL."

Following the season, Hurst was selected to the all-conference and all-area teams and named the area's player-of-the-year.

"I think the thing what sets James apart from so many is his intelligence," Woodard said. "…He truly is the whole package when it comes to a football player. He has everything that you would look for in a football player, in addition to being 6-6, 290 pounds and coming close to running a 4.98 forty. He's a kid with exceptional abilities."

Hurst will play in the Under Armour All-American Game on January 2. A week later, he will enroll at UNC, the school he verbally committed to in April.

To be eligible for early graduation from Plainfield High, Hurst had to take an English class online this semester, in addition to his regular class workload.

"It was pretty tough," Hurst said of his hectic fall schedule. "I tried to do as much as I could on the weekends and when I had free time."

Hurst, who officially visited UNC during the weekend of the Miami game, says he and Sam Pittman, UNC's offensive line coach, speak twice a week. Butch Davis will travel to Plainfield for an in-home visit Thursday.

Given UNC's lack of depth at offensive line and his early enrollment, Hurst will have a great opportunity to earn playing time.

"I'm going to get there and work as hard as I can," Hurst said. "I know Carl Gaskins might not be able to practice in the spring. That would give us younger guys a lot more reps and I've got to take advantage of that."

Woodard believes Hurst will be as prepared as possible for his opportunity.

"We've had players play as freshmen on other Division I programs, so I know our players are prepared physically as much as they can be," Woodard said. "Nothing can ever truly prepare you for what James is going to face.

"I think the thing that will serve him the best is the fact that he's so intelligent. He'll be able to pick up and understand what North Carolina wants him to do in terms of their schemes.

"And secondly, I think James is very athletic. He's going to be a guy who is going to standout because of his athleticism."

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