Lee’s Kenneth Hurley set the tone for his season when he opened 2012 with a 200-yard outing. (Herald file photo)
LEESBURG — The kid who was told he was too small all his life just kept playing bigger and bigger, and in 2012 Lee County tailback Kenneth Hurley emerged to win The Herald’s 3rd annual People’s Choice Football Player of the Year award.
Hurley won the Internet voting format for the POY, gaining more votes than five other POY candidates: Deerfield-Windsor tailback Kh’Ron McLain, Monroe quarterback Charles Stafford, Monroe linebacker Anthony Smith, Early quarterback Jacori Taylor and Terrell County quarterback Jerkerious Scott.
“I had all of these random people coming up to me and telling me they were voting for me,’’ Hurley said. “I just want to thank everyone who voted for me and everyone who supported me and the team this year.’’
Hurley had a big week. He won the POY award and also made a verbal commitment to play at Benedict College in South Carolina.
Hurley had a monster season that started with a 200-yard night on the ground and ended in the playoffs as Lee qualified for the postseason for the second time in three years. He said before the season started that he wanted to break the Lee County rushing record, but the Trojans used Hurley in so many different ways as a tailback, slotback and receiver.
He rushed for 1,233 yards, averaging 8.5 yards per carry, and he caught 38 passes for 675 yards. He scored 23 touchdowns, and added two, two-point conversions. He finished the season with 2,160 all-purpose yards.
He seemed to be everywhere Lee County needed him.
“Kenny had a fantastic year,’’ Lee County coach Dean Fabrizio said. “He had a great three years for us. He started as a cornerback as a sophomore and was our tailback last year, and he played his best football as a senior. He has always been a good player, but he really stepped it up as a senior.’’
Fabrizio told Hurley that he would play a bigger role in his final year.
“We challenged him before the season started,’’ Fabrizio said. “We told him he would need to carry a lot of the load, and he did. We told him we were going to move him all over the place to try to create mismatches. He really stepped his game up.’’
Hurley was perfect for Lee’s wide-open offense that tries to spread the field and create space with one of the most potent offenses in all of Georgia. Hurley was a big reason why Lee averaged 42 points a game.
“He’s so versatile we could move him around,’’ Fabrizio said. “That’s what was unique about him. He’s not just a runner. He’s everything. His quickness and his ability to make people miss sets him apart.’’
Hurley, a small and quick waterbug-type of player, said he knew he would have to carry the ball and the offense as a senior.
“(Coach Fabrizio) told me before the season that I needed to have the mindset to step up and have good leadership. At first it put a lot of pressure on me,’’ Hurley said. “I knew I had to step up and had to motivate my teammates. I’m usually a quiet person who just wants to get the job done. I had to change my mind and be more active. My teammates pushed me, and I pushed them. I did it all for my teammates.’’
His adjustment to the all-around back/receiver couldn’t have been much smoother.
“I had the mindset that I had to be a receiver and a running back,’’ Hurley said. “I had to work hard and catch the ball. It was fun. I got kind of bored playing one position, so I liked doing multiple things. It was fun. I got to play with people I was real close to, and we came out Friday nights and got the job done.’’
Hurley modestly said all of his success was a direct result of his offensive line and his other teammates.
“I give all the credit to my teammates,’’ Hurley said. “And to all the people who voted for me. This is great for Lee County. This is the second time a Lee County player has won this award (after Lee County receiver Sanford Seay won the first People’s Choice award two years ago). It’s not just great for me, but for Lee County.’’
Hurley said his big season on the gridiron and his scholarship to college should finally stop people from saying he’s too small to play football.
“I think I convinced them,’’ Hurley said. “I think they got the memo now.’’