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UNC left tackle James Hurst is a big man that will have a lot of eye balls on him this upcoming season starting from the opening whistle on August 29 against South Carolina.
After nearly three full years as a starter on the Tar Heels offensive line and having played in multiple systems which has allowed him to show off his versatility, NFL scouts will get the opportunity to see just what he's made of when he goes up against what will surely be the darling of the 2014 NFL Draft, Jadeveon Clowney.
"It's going to be a big one. It's going to be 60 minutes of probably playing the best player I've ever gotten to block. But I'm looking forward to it," said Hurst. "He's a great player. If you want to take your game to the next level you have to play against the best players and that's part of it and I'm excited for it."
The South Carolina opener will be a stark contrast from opener's past where UNC has played maybe less than stellar opposition.
They won't get a soft opening during the 2013 schedule, a challenge that Hurst and his teammates are excited about.
Hurst talked about the differences in preparing during the offseason when you know the opener will be heavily watched and dissected.
"I think it's just increasing our tempo and sense of urgency. This summer we're talking about playing a top-ten ranked team. You've got to be ready because it's going to be on national TV," said Hurst. "No one wants to go out there and get embarrassed so I think guys have taken that on and understand that time is short. Even though there are 28 days until the game, time is going to go by before you know it."
Many mock draft sites have Hurst listed as a potential first round selection and getting a chance to play against a guy like Clowney will have a big impact on his stock come next April.
But right now Hurst is focused on this season after dealing with injuries near the end of last year's run.
"Well last season I had surgery on my shoulder at the end of the season so I really wanted to get back and healthy. Overall my strength numbers have improved and that was a big deal to me," said Hurst. "I wanted to come back and be stronger than last year and be more physically ready than last year. I feel like I am right now and I've just got to get back into football mode."
With the departure of long-time contributors Jonathan Cooper, Travis Bond and Brennan Williams, Hurst is being counted on to anchor an offensive line unit that will have a few new faces in the rotation.
One guy that has impressed him the most and really stepped up in his estimation is a man that could be standing next to him on Saturday's this fall.
"For me, I'd say Caleb Peterson is big. I say that a lot but he plays right next to me so I pay a lot more attention to him than a lot of other people," said Hurst. "He's done a lot to work hard and I know he wants this more than anything so he's doing everything he can mentally and physically to get ready for that season opener."
While Peterson is a freshman, he has redshirted and allowed himself some time to get acclimated with the offensive system. In the meantime, a few other diaper dandies has come in immediately in the first few days of their collegiate careers and impressed the veteran right away.
"You know for the O-line, Lucas Crowley, this was the first day in pads and he really got in there and mixed it up so it will be interesting to see what he can do," said Hurst. "'Bug" (Johnathan Howard) and Ryan Switzer, we're not out there with the wide receivers to often but you see them out there with the two's, I think, so you see them getting reps so they must be doing something right."
UNC has a few positions up for grabs heading into the 2013 season but Hurst has his eyes firmly planted on the playmakers on the outside of UNC's offense.
"The wide receiver (group) is a big deal. I feel like we've got a lot of talented guys over there so it's really going to be a matter of who they trust the most to do their job every play and who's really going to perform on game day," said Hurst. "It'll be interesting to see and obviously there are a lot of talented guys so it'll be interesting to see who emerges from that."