The face of the Ravens’ 2018 draft is not the prospect they picked first but the one they picked second. Lamar Jackson is a polarizing selection at No. 32 overall, a quarterback with nearly unmatched dual-threat abilities and just as many questions about his pro potential.
But his path to Baltimore didn’t take as many curves as Hayden Hurst’s, the Ravens’ No. 25 overall pick. Few athletes ever have gone from ballyhooed Major League Baseball prospect to first-round NFL draft pick. Here’s what you need to know about the South Carolina product, his demise as a pitcher, his writing habits and which former Raven he compares to.
1. He was a baseball phenom from an early age.
Playing in a Jacksonville tee-ball league as a young boy, Hurst once fired a throw from third base to first with such speed that he was bumped into the kid-pitch division “out of fear for the safety of other children,” according to NFL.com.
That was just the beginning. He made the varsity of his state championship high school team as an eighth-grader. He returned from Tommy John surgery well enough to pump low-90s fastballs by the end of his high school tenure. He had a full-ride scholarship offer to play at Florida State, but decided to accept a $400,000 signing bonus to play in the Pittsburgh Pirates’ organization.
Football wouldn’t come until later.
2. Yips ended his one-game minor league pitching career — against an Orioles affiliate.
Hurst didn’t last long enough as a minor league pitcher for opponents to get even a scouting report.
During a May 2013 game at the Pirates’ spring training facility in Bradenton, Fla., facing the Orioles’ Gulf Coast League affiliate, Hurst felt numbness in his hand. He didn’t have control of the ball. He faced five batters, walked them all and threw a pair of wild pitches. He tried, unsuccessfully, to convert to first base one year later, but it would be his last time on the mound.
“It happened just like that,” Jerry Hurst, Hayden’s father, told NFL.com. “He called us up and was in tears. He didn’t understand what was happening.”
3. He used to journal.
The Pirates’ sports psychologist urged Hurst to consider keeping a journal as he dealt with his yips and subsequent depression. Hurst told Bleacher Report that he wrote in the journal almost daily for two years.
One such entry: “Bad series of days. I do not know why but I feel as though everything has gone to [expletive]. I feel nervous and unable to focus. I can’t get remotely close to obtaining the badass in me. And I have been doing a poor job at separating it on and off the field. I am lost, losing faith and searching for answers and stability in my life. This is getting hard to face each day and to be honest I feel like giving up. Why me? What have I done to deserve these 2 years of confirmed hell?”
4. He was a natural leader at South Carolina.
After walking on to the Gamecocks’ football team in 2015, appearing in all 12 games and starting one, Hurst became the first player in school history to be named a permanent team captain as a sophomore.
He earned it with behind-the-scenes work. Hurst worked out with weights twice a day and pounded gallons of milk, increasing his weight from 225 pounds to 250 and his maximum bench press from 250 pounds to 405. Coach Will Muschamp told Bleacher Report that whenever the weight room was open, he knew where to find Hurst.
Hurst also abstained from alcohol and regularly checked in with teammates and coaches about how he could improve.
“I did probably 10 times what the next guy was doing, if not more than that,” he told Bleacher Report.
5. He’s an older first-round pick, but so was Dennis Pitta.
Hurst was born Aug. 24, 1993. He’ll turn 25 not only before the Ravens’ first regular-season game, but also before fellow tight end Maxx Williams does — and the former second-round pick was taken three years ago.
In Baltimore, though, there is a precedent for older tight ends succeeding. Former Raven Dennis Pitta was 24 when the Ravens took him in the fourth round of the 2010 draft out of Brigham Young, and turned 25 that June.
Pitta had just one catch his rookie season but made steady progress the next two years, grabbing 40 receptions for 405 yards in 2011 and 61 for 669 yards in 2012.