Junior left tackle James Hurst is no stranger to high expectations.
As a highly-touted recruit that was a five star through most of his senior year of high school, Hurst came to UNC figuring to get on the field quickly, and within a couple of games into his true freshman season, he was a starter for the Tar Heels.
Fast forward two years, and Hurst finds himself at the forefront of a veteran UNC offensive line that is full of experienced talent.
"We've been waiting for a while now (to play again), especially (since the Independence Bowl). The game in Shreveport was a real big disappointment for us. A lot of the guys just want to get back out on the field and play football again," Hurst said in a recent interview with Tar Heel Illustrated.
"I think that's what happens every summer. You work out and you run, but nothing is quite like football. Everyone out here is excited, and everyone is working really hard, and I think we're ready to keep practicing and keep getting closer to the game."
Hurst managed to get through the first several training camp sessions fine, but missed a workout late last week with an unidentified injury.
Fortunately for the Tar Heels, Hurst is back full-go this week at his familiar left tackle post. Our staff at THI saw him back at practice working with the starters Monday.
"Once you're in camp, that runs straight up to your first game. so everyone is really ready to practice and get going every single day," Hurst said. "Obviously training camp is tough to do, but everyone is really excited, and I think with the energy (the team has) I think we'll be able to make progress."
Camp is always a grind for everyone, players and coaches alike, this time of year, but Hurst sees some things the coaching staff has done to help make it easier for the team.
For example, UNC had practice off on Tuesday but on Wednesday, the team's second two-a-day session of the summer, the team takes the practice field at just after 8:00 am.
In other sessions this week in which it's the day's only practice, they're starting before 10:00 am.
Practicing earlier not allow allows the team to get in a workout before the intense heat later in the day, but it also makes it easier to schedule position meetings and get some much-needed down time in the afternoon and evening.
"We're practicing in the morning this year which I think is a lot better. We're kind of getting practice out of the way early. That way we can rest more throughout the afternoon and get more meetings in the afternoon," Hurst said. "Putting a new offense in, I think these meetings and stuff are helping us a lot when we get ready for the next practice."
The spring was a tremendous transition for Hurst and the rest of the Tar Heel offensive players as they trained themselves to leave behind the former pro style offense in favor of a new fast-tempo spread scheme.
Those 15 spring practices were a lesson in chaotic learning on the go, but the spring made it where this summer's training camp isn't quite as frenzied.
"Just having more time in any situation is going to give you a better chance to learn the offense," Hurst said. "And the coaching staff has been great with giving us tapes and things to watch on their own time to get us better and more comfortable with the offense."
"Its still a work in progress," Hurst continued. "I don't think we're going to be adjusted to it honestly until the game comes."
"Obviously we haven't played a game with it yet, so I think it's going to be tough to really know what it's going to be like. You can scrimmage all you want, but it's not going to be a game until September 1. So we're excited for it, and we're going to work as hard as we can to get ready for it."
One of the big themes for the UNC offensive and defensive lines this summer has been the significant weight lost by certain key guys including Sylvester Williams and Travis Bond, among others.
While Hurst wasn't in position to need to lose a bunch of weight, he also met with UNC's nutritionist and had a plan throughout the offseason to keep himself in prime condition.
"I was light in the spring. I think I lost about five or ten pounds in the spring, but I'm back up now to about 305 (pounds). They've been good, our nutritionist and strength staff have been really good with helping guys back where they need to be," he said.
Knowing that the offense is going to be run at such a higher tempo made it critical for certain players to lose some weight, and Hurst is pleased and confident about the progress the unit made in that regard.
"I think everyone knows that we're going to be at a higher pace, and I think that to be at a higher pace you have to be in better shape," he said. "A lot of the offensive linemen were struggling with weight problems, and obviously we addressed that early. And I think that's going to pay off. I know a lot of the guys are happy with where they are right now, and they're excited to play with it."