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Michigan senior defensive tackle Maurice Hurst appears on several preseason watch lists and already is projected by at least one NFL draft analyst to be a first-round selection next year.

Jim Harbaugh, Michigan’s coach, said the praise for Hurst is overdue.

Hurst, who decided to return for a final year of college eligibility instead of jumping to the NFL, is thrilled with the attention this preseason. He was one of three players Michigan took to Big Ten media days in Chicago earlier this week.

“I love it,” Hurst said of the preseason hype. “I love being able to listen to what other people have to say and use that as motivation. That’s my biggest thing is just being able to have whatever is being said and just try to either prove someone right or prove someone wrong. It’s all motivation to be the best player I can be.

More: Mason Cole-led Michigan offensive line athletic but unsettled

“That’s always been my goal since I’ve been here to leave my legacy at Michigan and leave my legacy in college football. That’s something I definitely envisioned, and something I’m capable of doing. It’s something I really want to make happen.”

ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper recently rated Hurst as the top senior defensive tackle heading into the 2018 NFL Draft. Last season in 12 games, Hurst had 32 tackles, including 11.5 for loss and 4.5 sacks. 

Hurst and Michigan sophomore defensive end Rashan Gary were both named to the watch list for the Bronko Nagurski Trophy and Bednarik Award, both given to the most outstanding defensive player in college football. The two will anchor a defensive line that is replacing all its starters.

“I think he’s enjoying that people are appreciating what he does as a football player and what he brings to the football team,” Harbaugh said last Tuesday during media days. “He makes plays. So darn quick, so tough to block. He’s just getting tougher to block and getting quicker. He’s in there more. Not rotating as much. That’s going to be exciting to see — more of him out there. Same with Rashan. More Rashan out there. More Bryan Mone. More Chase Winovich.”

More: Harbaugh appreciates humble approach of Hurst, Gary

When he arrived at Michigan, Hurst already had been identified for his quickness. 

“I’ve always been a more athletic defensive tackle than some of the guys that were rotating in before,” Hurst said. “I’ve always been sort of a switch-up. I think I play a little bit different than a lot of other D tackles, and that’s something I’m able to use to my strengths, is quickness and agility.”

Michigan senior offensive lineman Mason Cole, who started at left tackle his first two seasons before moving to center last season and likely will be back at left tackle this fall, knows how tough it is to face Hurst.

“Explosive,” Cole said, describing his teammate. “He’s not the biggest guy. He’s not the biggest tackle you’re going to go again, but Mo Hurst is explosive. When it comes to quick-twitch guys, fast off the ball, I don’t think there’s a single guy better to play defensive line in college football than Mo Hurst.”

Hurst, who will be looked to as a leader this fall with so much youth on the team, is benefiting from having the same defensive coordinator — Don Brown — for a second-straight year.

“It means a lot for me just being able to understand the scheme more, understand what the linebackers are doing, what the secondary is doing,” he said. “I get a better grasp of the entire scheme, not just what my job is. I’m able to help a lot of the younger guys. I can line linebackers up and tell them what they’re going to do if they’re young and inexperienced and don’t know what’s really going on.”

He is confident in his team, which returns only five starters, and the fact he will make plays that will demand his personal celebration — a belly rub. Hurst has become known for the belly rub after a big play and said it was a spontaneous reaction that has stuck.

“I’m hungry and I’m ready to eat, that’s what it signifies for me,” he said.

achengelis@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @chengelis

 

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