CHARLOTTE, N.C. (CHARLOTTE SPORTS LIVE) – It goes without saying: Hayden Hurst knows exactly who he is.
“What you see is what you get. I am who I am,” Hurst said Wednesday before the Panthers began preparations for their first game of the season in Atlanta.
For most people, It’s a level of confidence that usually doesn’t come overnight. But for Hurst, it was one night in particular that changed everything.
“I made a bad decision,” he admitted. “I tried to take my own life. That was really kind of the turning point for me.”
It was the culmination of years of struggle and disappointment. It started after high school when Hurst set out to pursue his first love with the Pittsburgh Pirates farm system.
“Minor league baseball is different,” he explained. “You go through the bus rides. The same thing every single day for 142 games. It’s a grind.”
Eventually, though, that grind caught up to him.
Overwhelmed by the pressure of making it to the Bigs, Hurst started struggling, and soon, he’d lose his grip both figuratively and literally.
“Hands were shaking, hands were sweating,” he remembers. “I couldn’t play catch at the foul line.”
He turned to drinking and ultimately away from baseball. Amazingly, he’d quickly pivot to football, where, at 21, he found a spot as a walk-on at South Carolina.
The diamond was behind him. But as he’d soon discovered, his demons were not.
“That stuff doesn’t go away. You don’t just not have depression or anxiety anymore. You find ways to deal with it. Unfortunately for me, it followed me to Columbia.”
And so was on that suicidal night in 2015 when everything came to a head. That night, though, Hurst decided he was going to reclaim control of his life.
“In my mind, I had my first childhood dream ripped away from me,” he said. “I just kind of told myself and made a promise. I’m going to exhaust all my resources and do everything I can to make sure football works.”
Clearly, his plan worked.
The 30-year-old is entering his sixth season in the NFL and first with the Panthers. But these days, football isn’t his only passion. Five years ago, he established the Hayden Hurst Family Foundation, a charity that specializes in mental health awareness.
“I have a bit of perspective. If anyone wants to talk to me about it, I’m an open book,” he said.
He’s now touching more lives than he is scoring touchdowns. All the while never forgetting the unconventional and inspirational journey, the one that made him who he is today.