By Kelly Parsons
TAMPA — With a number of potential elite NFL draft prospects electing to sit out bowl games, Michigan DT Maurice Hurst had a decision to make for the Outback Bowl.
Hurst, especially dominant in the pass rush, is projected to be a first-round pick. Peers who opted to skip bowl games include the Florida State trio of DE Josh Sweat, S Derwin James and LB Matthew Thomas.
Hurst (6 feet 2, 282 pounds) said he discussed the matter with his family and coaches but ultimately based his decision on his love for the game.
"Football has always offered so much to me, and it just felt like the right decision," Hurst said. "I’ve never really been one to back down from any football competition, so I think it’s just another opportunity for me to play and get to display my skills and have a good time with my teammates."
Teammates said the decision showed his unwavering commitment to Michigan. Defensive coordinator Don Brown never really had a doubt: "I just know the guy. I think when he thought it through, came up with a plan, I just think he knew it was the right thing to do for him. He just felt like his Michigan legacy was important."
As a result of South Carolina’s staff reshuffling in the wake of co-offensive coordinator Kurt Roper’s recent dismissal, running backs coach Bobby Bentley is coaching the quarterbacks, which includes son Jake.
It’s the first time Bentley has coached Jake, one of his five children, in an official capacity since his son’s sophomore season at Byrnes High in Duncan, S.C. Bentley was 119-54 with four straight state titles as Byrnes coach.
"It’s just a (comfort) thing," said Jake Bentley, who has passed for 2,555 yards, 16 TDs and 11 interceptions in a breakthrough sophomore season.
"Coach Roper did a great job; I learned a lot from him, too, so I don’t think it’s a matter of anything taught differently. I think it’s just more of I may click a little more coming from someone I’ve been with obviously my whole life."
Santa Claus’ job might be done for the year, but players in the Outback Bowl still have presents coming their way.
Michigan and South Carolina players were given 10 points and allowed to choose from items ranging in value from 1 to 10.
Up for grabs were smart watches, drones, TVs and a memory-foam king-size mattress.
While many Wolverines reported selecting gadgets and gifts for family members, senior FB Henry Poggi had his mind on post-grad life when making his choice. "I remember I felt so old selecting my bowl gift," he said. "There’s guys running around, ‘I’m going to get a TV,’ all this stuff. I look at this electric grill and I’m like, ‘Wow, this will be perfect for when I move out.’ Then I hear one of the young guys, ‘Who the hell would get an electric grill?’ I was there once."
"We were in Birmingham last year. We’re in Tampa this year. I mean, that’s all I really need to say." — South Carolina WR Bryan Edwards, when asked about the difference between this bowl season and last year’s
Times staff writer Joey Knight contributed to this report.