It’s finally game week! In the past, we’ve limited these lists to just the top 25 players, but this season, we’re upping our game to 50. So just about every day until the season starts, there will be a new player profile up here as we count down to the top ACC player for 2013.
Obviously these lists are always completely subjective — and thus “completely bulletproof” — so feel free to weigh in with your own thoughts in the comments, too.
Last year’s North Carolina offense prided itself on a strong line most of all. It was the reason Bryn Renner took so few sacks, and the reason Giovani Bernard was able to put together the impressive campaign he did at running back. So it’s understandable that there’s some concern this season when the team no longer has Jonathan Cooper operating at the guard spot, along with fellow linemen Travis Bond and Brennan Williams. But that doesn’t mean this team’s suddenly vulnerable either. It’ll be no easy task to replace those players, but starting with James Hurst, there’s hope the Heels see very little drop-off this year. Just one look at Hurst and you’ll get why.
At 6’7″ and 305 pounds, Hurst is a looming individual; one of the biggest linemen UNC has, actually. And now as a senior, his leadership must loom over his teammates as well. Hurst is already under a ton of pressure at tackle, and it’s been made a bit more nerve-racking by the man he’ll be blocking in the first game this season: South Carolina‘s Jadeveon Clowney. He gets the hype and importance, of course. But Hurst is also taking everything in stride — almost sounding calm about the prospect of the matchup in a conversation with the Charlotte Observer:
“There’s a lot riding on you. They’re going to look at that game film, and (ask) how did he play against him? But on the other side of the coin, it is one game of the year, and it is the first game of the year. So there’s a lot on it, but at the same time you’ve got to take a little off of it because you know it’s the whole season that matters. But to me, it is the first game, and at that point it’s the only game I’ve played.”
And Hurst seems to be right on the money there. Obviously if he’s going to prove himself to be a first round draft pick, this game is critical. But at the same time, there’s still plenty of other games and plenty of other responsibilities to focus on. Hurst appears ready for all of it, though, which is essential if North Carolina hopes to replicate last season’s success on offense and potentially contend for a conference title.