Nineteen Wolverines took center stage at Oosterbaan Field House in front of representatives from all 32 NFL teams. Despite such a high turnout for the Michigan football team’s Pro Day, there was one notable absence.

Fifth-year senior defensive tackle Maurice Hurst decided to return to the Wolverines for the 2017-18 season though he had generated interest from NFL scouts. Still, he showed up Friday to watch his teammates work out for a chance to chase their dreams at the next level.

He could have been one of them. For a moment, he wished he was.

“It was kind of tough watching all of the guys work out without being there, just from all the stuff we’ve been through for the past four years,” Hurst said. “I wish I could have been out there with them working, but I was really excited to watch them and watch them do well and excel and just hear all of the good things the coaches had to say about them.

“I’m so happy about my decision and I’m looking forward to the season.”

With the loss of fifth-year seniors Chris Wormley, Ryan Glasgow and Matt Godin and senior Taco Charlton, Hurst will be relied upon to anchor Michigan’s defensive line this year.

Backing up that quartet last season — alongside rising sophomore defensive end Rashan Gary, rising senior defensive end Chase Winovich and rising senior defensive tackle Bryan Mone — Hurst accumulated 34 tackles (including 11.5 for loss), 4.5 sacks, one pass breakup, one fumble recovery and one forced fumble.

When speaking with NFL representatives Friday, Hurst learned that he still had room to grow.

“Just consistency and production is mainly the two things that were sort of brought up,” Hurst said. “(I) definitely have a big year ahead, just make the most of it.”

This season, Hurst will have his first taste of the starting lineup, and an opportunity to make a difference on every single snap. Though he will have to adjust to playing more minutes, he won’t have to adjust to a new defensive system.

After turning the Wolverines into the top-ranked defense in the country, defensive coordinator Don Brown earned a new five-year contract for $1.4 million per season. With his return, Michigan can focus on continuing its growth from last year as opposed to learning a new scheme.

“I don’t think people understand how much of a difference that makes,” Hurst said. “Just the same terminology, the same faces, the same people coaching you, it makes such a big difference for us. It really helps a lot of people. I’m able to look at a lot of stuff that the linebackers do in the secondary and able to learn the defense more holistically.”

As good as the Wolverines’ secondary — led by redshirt sophomore Jabrill Peppers and senior Jourdan Lewis — was last season, the defensive line was considered “the focal point”, as Hurst attested. He will be expected to help maintain that trend, especially with the abundance of youth that populates the front seven.

While Brown will certainly rely on his front four to establish the run of play, he also wants them to be able to take risks and trust that the secondary will have them covered. Hurst, who is comfortable in the playmaker role, was excited to learn that his coach wants him to take more chances.

“That’s something that I love to do,” Hurst said. “I love to make plays. That’s something that I look forward to.”

On top of his performances on the field, Hurst’s most important role next season could be as a mentor to Michigan’s relatively inexperienced defensive corps. Though he admitted that he is typically a quiet individual who prefers to lead by example, he understands the significance of stepping up as a more vocal leader.

“Just making sure the young guys get it and make sure they understand how the work is supposed to be done and make sure that they do it the right way,” Hurst said. “… It means a lot to me to be able to lead them and have an influence on them and make sure they’re doing everything that they’re supposed to.”

While watching on the sidelines Friday as his teammates made their mark at Pro Day could have made him feel like he missed out on a golden opportunity, Hurst realizes that same opportunity might still lie before him.

As Hurst put it: “Decision’s made, so now it’s just make the best of the situation that I’m in and just continue to work and play well.”

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