Michigan defensive tackle Maurice Hurst says it's a "difficult decision" about whether to play in the Outback Bowl or skip it. Angelique S. Chengelis, Detroit News
Ann Arbor — It’s “business as usual” this week for Michigan’s Maurice Hurst, a first-team, All-Big Ten defensive tackle who was late for a brief media session Thursday because he was busy with a group project for graduate school.
But as talk turns to Outback Bowl preparations at Schembechler Hall this week, there is other business for Hurst, a fifth-year senior, to consider.
And he admits he’s struggling to do just that as he contemplates his next career move, which will begin in earnest once this college football season is complete.
Just when it will, though, remains unclear. To play or not to play? That is the question Hurst must answer first, deciding whether the individual risk is worth the reward of playing one final game with his team Jan. 1 in Tampa.
Hurst is a potential first-round pick in next spring’s NFL draft – he actually graded out as the top player in college football this season, according to Pro Football Focus – and a growing number of players in a similar spot have opted to skip the bowl season to avoid a career-threatening injury.
Stanford’s Christian McCaffrey and LSU’s Leonard Fournette made waves last winter when they decided not to play in a bowl game, and then both went in the top 10 in the draft. Already this month, a pair of Texas Longhorns, including a first-round prospect in left tackle Connor Williams, and Florida State safety Derwin James – another projected top-10 pick – announced they’ll forego their teams’ bowls.
Hurst, for his part, said he hasn’t made a decision yet, though he expects to in the next week or so after discussing it with his family, with current and former teammates and with Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh, who said earlier in the week he was open to discussing it with any of his players.
“We’ll talk about it, we’ll be able to figure it out,” Harbaugh said. “I’ll be supportive in the conversation and the discussions about it.”
Added Hurst: “I definitely want his advice, being the head coach and just having so many connections like that. I really value his opinion. So I definitely want to get his opinion, ask him. ‘What would he do if I was his son?’ and those type of things.”
Of course, those types of things are often what get left out of these discussions in the media and among fans who can’t see past their own rooting interest.
So here’s hoping Hurst does the right thing for himself now, even if it feels wrong to others, maybe even including some of his own teammates.
Hurst said he planned to talk to former Michigan tight end Jake Butt, among others, in the coming days. And he should, because his ex-teammate is now being held up by many as the poster child for risk assessment.
Butt suffered a torn ACL in last year’s Orange Bowl and that injury that cost him an estimated $2.5 million in guaranteed money, at least, as he fell from a projected second-round draft pick all the way to the fifth round.
It also cost him his entire rookie season, as the Broncos placed him on injured reserve last month after a brief return to the practice field in October, 10 months after surgery.
Butt has insisted publicly that he doesn’t regret his decision to play in the bowl game. Yet Hurst admitted Thursday “it’s extremely tough” to shake the memory of that injury from his own mind, if not his own decision.
Bob Wojnowski, John Niyo, Angelique S. Chengelis and Matt Charboneau talk about the Jim Harbaugh and Mark Dantonio tweets, about MSU feeling snubbed with its bowl choice, and about the teams Michigan and Michigan State will face. Detroit News
“Just being there and seeing him go down, it was heart-wrenching just to see the emotion on his face, his family’s face, and it was just so tough,” Hurst said.
“It was really hard for me to watch that last year.”
And before you try to make any claims about insurance policies that are now commonplace in college football and basketball, you might want to take a look at one. Hurst, who turned down a a chance to go pro a year ago, signed his before the season, and he half-jokingly says he still doesn’t know what it says.
Per NCAA rules, “exceptional student-athletes” can sign up for disability and loss-of-value insurance, and some athletic departments offer financial help through catch-all Student Assistance Funds. The NCAA also allows waivers for players to borrow against future earnings. But policies to cover potential losses for a first-round talent can cost $60-80,000 easily.
Consider that Butt’s disability policy last year included a $2 million loss-of-value rider that cost an additional $25,000 by itself, according to an ESPN report.
And while that might have helped recoup some of what was lost financially when he suffered nerve damage along with the torn knee ligament, it’s never that simple collecting on an insurance claim.
Likewise, what works for some may not work for others, as Hurst said Thursday, noting that the ability to “go above and beyond what the university does by providing more money for extra insurance, I’m also not in a situation to do.”
He was raised by a single mother who took out a second mortgage just to help pay tuition for the private high school he attended near Boston. He has worked as an Uber driver while in college to make extra money.
So when people talk about college athletes and compensation and the pay-to-play debate, “I think that’s another issue that people have to focus on,” Hurst said.
And if a soft-spoken, heart-and-soul player like this decides to focus on his future, while his coaches essentially do the same, using bowl practices to prep for next season, well, I don’t understand how anyone could have an issue with that.