CHAPEL HILL, N.C. (AP) — James Hurst would prefer to work in relative anonymity as he blocks for North Carolina tailbacks or quarterback Bryn Renner this fall. The senior knows he'll instead get plenty of scrutiny as the top returnee to the Tar Heels' offensive line and an NFL prospect.
The 6-foot-7, 305-pound offensive tackle said he's ready for that pressure that comes with that status.
"It's a challenge I've never had in my career," Hurst said. "I've been lucky enough to play next to older guys who are good and had respected reputations so I never had to worry about that. But as you get older, you get new responsibilities, so I'm looking forward to it."
Hurst, a native of Plainfield, Ind., arrived in Chapel Hill as a midyear enrollee in 2010 under former coach Butch Davis. He has started all but two games for the Tar Heels during his career and is a two-time second-team all-Atlantic Coast Conference pick.
Last year, he was part of a veteran line that helped tailback Gio Bernard run for a second straight 1,200-yard season on an offense that set UNC records for scoring and total offense.
Offensive guard Jonathan Cooper, who started alongside Hurst on the left side, was the No. 7 overall pick in the draft in April. Fellow linemen Brennan Williams (third round) and Travis Bond (seventh) were also selected, leaving Hurst and center Russell Bodine as the most experienced returnees this fall.
Hurst has been a preseason all-ACC and all-America pick by several publications, not to mention among the top line prospects for the 2014 NFL draft.
Hurst graded out around 90 percent and allowed one sack last year as the Tar Heels ran a no-huddle offense averaging nearly 75 plays per game. But offensive line coach Chris Kapilovic said he is pushing Hurst to be a more vocal leader and dominating blocker.
Kapilovic, who came with head coach Larry Fedora from Southern Mississippi before last year, called Hurst one of the smartest linemen he's ever coached.
"In most people's mind, he had a good year last year, a very good year — solid," Kapilovic said. "But in his mind and even in my mind, it needs to be better. We've talked a lot about 'What are you going to do to stand out this year?' It's not about just getting your job done. It's got to be more."