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Hayden Hurst: Panthers deal is fate after 2nd chance at life

Hayden Hurst: Panthers deal is fate after 2nd chance at life
NFL player Hayden Hurst. (Credit: © Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports)

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (BVM) – Hayden Hurst recently signed a threeyear contract with the Carolina Panthers. But for the former Cincinnati Bengals tight end, being in Charlotte – which is less than 100 miles from Columbia, South Carolina – feels like fate. After all, during his playing career with Gamecocks, Hurst tried to take his own life and was given a miraculous second chance.   

Many can recall that Hurst started out his professional career at 18 years old when he was picked by Pittsburgh in the 17th round of the 2012 MLB Draft. The  6-foot-5 first baseman and relief pitcher could throw 97 mph and was destined for greatness on the diamond. 

But, Hurst ended up only playing two seasons in the Pirates organization. He gave up baseball because he was afflicted by “the yips.” According to Hurst, the “yips” ruined his ability to throw with accuracy and he was discouraged by his bad throws. 

“I couldn’t even play catch with a kid [a few feet away] and I’m supposed to be a professional baseball player,” Hurst said in an interview with the Atlanta Falcons. “It was horrible and it really affected me on the field obviously and then off the field, it created a downward spiral in my life.” 

Hurst’s “downward spiral” really began when he felt like he had no other choice but to leave baseball at 21 years old. He got involved with substance abuse as a means to forget the pain of having his childhood dream of baseball ripped away from him.

Hurst believed at the time that making the pivot to football would cure his depression. With only one season of high school football under his belt, he became a walk-on with the South Carolina Gamecocks in 2015. 

“My basic football knowledge was elementary – run a route really fast and catch a pass,” Hurst told Bleacher Report. “Everything I did my freshman year was raw. I had no idea what a defense was doing schematically. I couldn’t ID a single coverage.” 

But following his sophomore season, in January of 2016, Hurst’s substance abuse caught up to him. He was rushed to the hospital after attempting to end his own life. 

“When you’re in that dark spot, you feel alone and nobody cares,” Hurst said in an interview with the Atlanta Falcons. “For some reason, I got a second chance at this thing…. I made a promise to (myself) to make the most of this opportunity.” 

Hurst changed the quality of his life by getting more help for his mental health and by believing that football was his destiny. Despite mental health issues, he was able to earn a scholarship and finish out his three seasons with over 1,200 receiving yards, 100 receptions and three touchdowns.  

As the 25th overall pick in the first round of the 2018 NFL Draft by the Baltimore Ravens, Hurst was the first tight end selected and just the 13th Gamecock ever drafted in the first round. By this time, he was 25 years old. 

Now, the thriving 29-year-old has amassed 1,718 receiving yards and 14 touchdowns during his five-year NFL career with the Ravens (2018–19), Falcons (2020–21) and Cincinnati Bengals (2022).

Overall, being with the Panthers is a full-circle moment for the tight end since he once got a second chance at life not too far away. He’ll no doubt be bringing his charity work to Charlotte thanks to the Hayden Hurst Foundation – a nonprofit corporation that helps young people find the tools they need for mental health issues. 

“I think everybody kind of goes through their own thing, anxiety, depression,” Hurst told NFL reporter Neil Reynolds. “… I just put it all out there because I know what it’s like to be in that headspace… if it can help save lives, I’ll (continue) to put out my story in full detail.”