Lee County senior running back Kenneth Hurley is seen here darting past the defense in practice. Hurley said before the season that he wants to break the Lee County rushing record. After gaining 600 yards last year, he had an eye-opening start to the 2012 season by gaining 200 yards and getting into the end zone three times in just three quarters in the Trojans’ 49-32 victory against Dougherty. (email@example.com)
Getting to know Kenneth Hurley
Q: What’s your favorite food?
A: “Chicken, fried chicken with hot sauce.’’
Q: What’s your favorite movie?
A: “Finding Nemo, because Nemo is a little guy and everyone is picking on him. That’s the way it was for me growing up, kids always picking on me.’’
Q: Who is your favorite entertainer (movie star, comedian, singer etc)?
A: “Rapper, Chief Keef.’’
Q: Who is your favorite NFL player?
A: “Ray Lewis, because he motivates everyone on his team.’’
Q: If you were stranded on an island, who would you want to be with you?
A: “Nicki Manaj.”
Q: Who is the person you owe everything to?
A: “My parents. They motivate me every day.’’
LEESBURG — It wasn’t a promise, not even a vow, and it sure wasn’t a prediction or a guarantee.
It was more of a want-to — if that’s what you even call it.
But Kenneth Hurley meant it when he said before the season started that he wanted to break the Lee County record for rushing in a single season.
Sounds silly coming from a guy who gained 600 yards last year, but this is Hurley, a kid who heard all his life he couldn’t play football.
He gained 200 yards on opening night.
Heck, he gained 175 yards in the first half and scored three touchdowns before the break, picked up another 25 yards and averaged 14.28 yards per carry, racking up one-third of what he gained all last year in just three quarters. Then he sat out the fourth quarter and just smiled — smiled like never before.
“I don’t cry about football any more,’’ said Hurley, who darts like a bullet and cuts like a Ginsu knife. “I’m smiling now.’’
That’s what the players at Lee will tell you about Hurley, whose tears flowed like the Flint River when he was a kid.
“He’s got a great smile, and he’s got a laugh,’’ said wide receiver Casey Hightower, a senior who has known Hurley for years. “What a laugh. Every time I hear him laugh, I have to laugh. He’s hilarious. His laugh cracks me up.’’
“He keeps everybody laughing,’’ added Andrew Stroud, another senior receiver who knows Hurley well.
Hurley, a Herald Dynamite Dozen player, was laughing all the way into the end zone in Lee County’s 49-32 opening night win against Dougherty last week, and he is always keeping the kids at Lee loose.
“He’s always smiling. He never gets down on anybody,’’ Hightower said. “He picks everyone up.’’
Hurley might just help lift Lee County to a region title. He looked that good in the opener, and not even the coaches at Lee know how big of a season Hurley could have.
“We’re going to use him a lot,’’ said Lee County coach Dean Fabrizio, who likes to spread the field and throw the ball. “We’re going to use him at receiver and tailback and running back kicks. We’re utilizing him all over the field because of his experience.’’
That sounds almost ludicrous, considering when Hurley arrived in Lee County he had no experience at all, and when the Trojans handed him the football last year, Hurley had never — never in his entire life — carried a football in a game.
“He is unusual, the rare kid who didn’t play running back,’’ Fabrizio said. “Usually when you’re a running back, you’ve been a running back since you were 5 years old. Usually, they have all played running back coming up and when they get to high school you have to move them somewhere else. It was an unusual thing.’’
Hurley had never carried the ball.
He just carried the heartache.
“When I was 10, I wanted to play on a (pee wee) team, but I had a bad attitude, and my mother took me off the team,’’ Hurley said. “I was mad. I was upset with myself. But it taught me a lesson. But then when I was in sixth grade I wanted to play. We lived in Terrell County, and I wanted to play on the sixth-grade team there in middle school. They told me I was too little to play for them.’’
It crushed him.
“I was so mad. I was so depressed,’’ Hurley said. “I didn’t want to play football any more. I didn’t want to have anything to do with football. Every time I looked at a football game on television, I would just get under my covers and put the pillow over my head and cry like a baby.’’
He dried his eyes when he came to Lee County, and the door opened for Hurley, who is still a small tailback at 5-8 and 150 pounds but as dangerous as anyone on the field.
“My mother gave me the confidence to play,’’ he said. “My parents really motivated me. When we moved to Lee County, my mother told me this was a new school and a different team, and they would give me a chance. When I went out for the eighth-grade team I was playing right away. I was the happiest person in Lee County.’’
He felt like he belonged in eighth grade and felt he needed to do even more as a freshman.
“When I was in ninth grade they put me at free safety, and I felt I had to prove to everybody that I should be playing,’’ Hurley said. “Everybody got to see that. I had to prove my point.’’
By the time he was a sophomore, Hurley was starting for the varsity team at Lee County High School, the year the Trojans turned the program around and reached the playoffs. He didn’t just start, he made an impact and had three interceptions, including two game-saving picks.
“He made two interceptions at the end of games to seal the victory for us when he was a sophomore,’’ said Fabrizio, who could see even then that Hurley would be his tailback some day. Denzel Echols, an Albany Herald All-Area player, was the electric back who gained more than 1,000 combined yards rushing and receiving that year.
“Hurley would have been Denzel’s backup as a sophomore,’’ Fabrizio said. “We could see that in spring practice, but he was too good to be a backup. We had to have him on the field, so he was a starter at cornerback for us.’’
Hurley started to make his move last year, rushing for 600 yards and picking up another 200 yards in receptions in Lee’s throw-first offense. Now, he might be ready to explode as a senior.
“Without a doubt, he’s a different player,’’ Fabrizio said. “He’s a different kid. His confidence is up, and his strength is up. And his toughness is different. He’s tougher and able to handle getting the ball more because of his toughness.
“We knew he was going to be very talented, but his confidence level has really changed and his ability to see things has really improved. Just his vision for seeing blocks is so much better this year from last year.’’
His blockers rarely see him.
“We will be blocking downfield and we will be 30, 40 yards ahead of him, and he just goes right by us,’’ Stroud said. “You don’t even see him. He’s so fast.’’
Hurley leaves them shaking their heads at Lee.
“He’s quick as a cat out there,’’ said Tavarious Hall, a senior running back. “He looks like a cat — you know how quick a cat can run. That’s him. The sky is the limit for him. He can do anything he wants to do.’’
Hurley’s quickness was more than evident in the opener last week, but he didn’t surprise Fabrizio.
“He’s got the ability to stick that foot in the ground and make those cuts on a dime,’’ Fabrizio said. “He’s fast. He’s got very good speed, but he’s got great game speed. He runs faster on the field than on the track. He’s got 4.5 speed, and when he’s in the game he just gets quicker. When he gets on the field, he’s coming to take it.’’
His size and quickness go hand-in-hand for Hurley,
“I’ve seen him get through a hole this big,’’ said Stroud, holding his hands about a foot apart. “He’s just so quick. He can go through it. I’ve seen it happen.’’
Even after his big night— a 200-yard eye-popping opener — all Hurley wanted to talk about was his blockers.
“They gave me every yard,’’ he said.
Those are the words from a kid who appreciates everything that happens to him on the field.
“I am a better person for going through what I went through growing up and not being able to play football,’’ he said. “It motivated me, and it made me appreciate football a lot more.’’
He could feel all that and more on his big runs, which included a 70-yard TD, against Dougherty.
“I was just smiling so big every time I heard the crowd on those runs,’’ Hurley said. “I’ve never heard the crowd that loud. It was amazing. I never expected I would run that much. It felt amazing when I broke into the open field and heard that crowd.
“I really wanted to prove something,’’ he said. “I wanted to prove that I had made it. I cried so much when I couldn’t play. I thought about it every day, thinking, ‘How can they do this to me, because I was small?’
“But I was smiling all night, even when I came out of the game and was on the sideline, I just kept smiling. I just couldn’t stop smiling.’’