Hurst — the most seasoned UNC veteran with 36 starts — intends to block him.
“It’s going to be 60 minutes of probably the best player I’ve ever got to block, but I’m looking forward to it,” Hurst said. “He’s a great player, and if you want to take your game to the next level, you’re going to have to play the best player.”
Hurst, who at 6-foot-7, 305-pounds was selected to the preseason All-ACC first team, has NFL aspirations, and his matchup against Clowney will likely be watched closely by NFL scouts. CBSSports.com projects Hurst as the sixth best offensive tackle in the 2014 draft class, which could land him in the draft’s first two rounds.
“If you’re going to have to go into a contest where their best guy is out there, you want to put your best guy out there, and I have 100 percent confidence in (Hurst),” Kapilovic said.
Though Thursday’s test looms large, UNC has a season beyond Clowney and South Carolina, and it is by that body of work that Hurst’s offensive line will be judged.
After three years of playing with veterans, Hurst now holds seniority, and has adjusted to his new role as vocal leader of the line.
“Middle of the game, say we have some adversity and are down a few scores, I feel like I’ve got to say something to the guys to get them going a little bit, and turn the tide,” he said.
Vocality doesn’t necessarily come naturally to the hulking yet relatively soft-spoken Hurst, but Kapilovic believes Hurst acts as a perfect foil to the coach’s bad cop role, lifting his teammates’ spirits after the position coach scolds them.
Offensive coordinator Blake Anderson said Hurst is the right kind of role model for the offensive line, which also features redshirt junior center Russell Bodine and redshirt sophomore left guard Landon Turner, who have 18 combined starts.
“With some guys that are young, that haven’t had a whole lot of experience,” Anderson said, “to be able to draw from a guy that’s calm, that’s experienced, that’s been through the fire as many reps as he has, that’s got to be helpful for everybody.”