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Falcons tight end Hayden Hurst: God gave me a second chance at life

When Atlanta Falcons tight end Hayden Hurst takes the field against the New Orleans Saints on Sunday, he will be one of more than 1,000 NFL players supporting a variety of causes through the league’s “My Cause, My Cleats” initiative. Unlike most players, though, Hurst is using the opportunity to raise awareness for something he has personally experienced. His cause is his story.

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In 2016, Hurst tried to take his own life. The Pittsburgh Pirates had taken him out of high school in the 17th round of the 2012 MLB Draft. One day during a bullpen session, his fingers started going numb and he was no longer able to control his pitches. He tried and tried for nearly three years to get his feel for the baseball back, and kept believing he would figure it out.

“The days were filled with shame, embarrassment,” Hurst wrote earlier this year in an article for the Players’ Tribune. “So were the nights. But I had an out at night. I could drink. So I did. And I would drink as much as I could until I couldn’t feel the shame — until I couldn’t feel the fist gripping my chest. I drank with the sole purpose of blacking out. That’s the truth.”

Eventually, he reached the conclusion that baseball wasn’t going to work out. He switched to football and enrolled at South Carolina, where his depression and struggles continued. It all culminated on that night in January 2016. Hurst didn’t find out until the next day he had attempted suicide.

“I woke up in the hospital,” he recalled earlier this year to First Coast News. “I didn’t know what happened. I had to have a friend fill me in. Apparently, I had been drinking and went into my apartment and cut my wrist. My friend found me in a puddle of blood. He called 911.”

At the hospital, as he was handcuffed to a bed, Hurst experienced what he calls his “come to Jesus moment.” He vowed right then and there to get the help he needed and live with a renewed purpose.

“For whatever reason, God looked down on me and gave me a second shot at this thing,” he said in a video released by the Falcons on Thursday. “And I made a promise, I’m going to make the most of this opportunity.”

And that is exactly what he has done. Hurst finished out his career at South Carolina and was selected in the first round by the Baltimore Ravens in 2018. He is now in the midst of the best year of his career with Atlanta, which acquired him in a trade this offseason. Through 11 games, he has 41 receptions for 459 yards and three TDs, all career highs.

Later in 2018, the Hayden Hurst Family Foundation was created to help “raise awareness of mental health issues in children and adolescents.” Hurst, who describes himself as a “man of God,” wants to provide the same kind of support he received to others because he knows firsthand how important it can be.

“Just having that support system in moments like that is just crucial,” he said in the video. “You don’t know which way is up. You’re looking for help any way you can get it. And for those people to be there for me, it really helped save my life.”

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