Falcons Tight End Opens Up About Mental Health, His Darkest Moment

Hayden Hurst

getty Hayden Hurst #81 of the Baltimore Ravens.

From the outside looking in, you might think all of these star athletes are “living the dream.” When in reality they’re just like everyone else and are still battling their own demons.

For Falcons tight end Hayden Hurst, his so-called “perfect world” collapsed at an early age and he thought he didn’t have any other option but to take his own life one night.

Hurst told and wrote his full story to The Players Tribune.  He tells it so detailed, so vividly you either feel like you’re in his position or someone wanting to reach out and help him.

Hurst’s ‘Special Arm’

Hurst grew up in Jacksonville Florida. At the ripe age of six-years-old, he had an incredible right arm. It was deemed so special at such a young age he was actually forced to move up from T-ball for the other kids’ safety after parents saw him throw a ball “too hard” to first base.

By eighth grade, Hurst was pitching for his high school’s varsity team and even had a low-90s fastball that led his school to two state titles. Heading into his senior year, Hurst pitched in the Under Armour High School All-American game which led Florida State to offer him a full scholarship.

Of course, he accepted but then the Pirates called. He was selected in the 17th round of the 2012 Draft. They offered him a $400,000 signing bonus which easily convinced the 18-year-old to forgo senior year and college altogether. He packed up his bags and headed to Pittsburgh.

The Turning Point

Hurst had it made, or so he thought. 18-years-old and play in the MLB—what he was meant to do right out of the womb.

But then there was one day. One day that would change his life forever. He began losing feeling in his right hand. He couldn’t feel when he threw the ball, he could feel the strike zone. He had developed the yips out of nowhere, uncontrollable wrist spasms.

He didn’t give up.

He went to the field every morning with a new pitching coach. He saw a psychiatrist, he journaled and he weirdly tried hypnotism. The Pirates worked with him and switched him over to first base for the 2014 season. He couldn’t even hit anymore.

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Finding a New Passion

After exhausting every option there was, his pitching coach Scott Elarton asked him about his other passions.

“He asked me what else I was passionate about, Hayden wrote on The Players Tribune. And for so long the answer would be nothing. But that passion had died somewhere along the way in Bradenton. So I thought of football. I thought of watching Gator games as a kid, I thought of playing in high school and how much I’d loved it.”

Hurst, 6-foot-5, could still run a 4.60 40-yard dash which made him a perfect fit at tight end. He hadn’t played football since junior year of high school, but it didn’t matter. Many FBS teams were interested in the former MLB star pitcher.

He decided to walk-on at South Carolina. He made the team and the following 2016 season, he earned a scholarship. That fall, he set the school single-season record for receptions by a tight end that fall with 48. in 2017, he caught 44 more passes as a 24-year-old junior.

That year, he entered the NFL draft and was projected to be selected in the first round. The Ravens drafted Hurst with the 25th overall pick.

Battling Demons

Once again, Hurst was stealing the show on the field. But even after a good game, he would still go home to the darkness.

He converted to alcoholism and after each drink, his thoughts would become darker and darker. Then one night in January of 2016 he mixed pills with his drinks.

“When I woke up the next morning, my wrists were all bandaged up and handcuffed to the hospital bed. I still had my shirt on. It was covered in my blood. Someone came and told me what I had done. I didn’t know how to react. I had a thought.

If I’d had a gun, I would have died last night.

He hasn’t had any alcohol since that night. And after rising above this moment, Hurst started the Hayden Hurst Family Foundation to raise awareness of mental health issues in teenagers.

Hurst will play for the Atlanta Falcons this upcoming season where he has a real chance to shine as a starter.

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