Prior to last year’s NFL Draft, former Michigan defensive lineman Mo Hurst faced my questions about his health concerning a medical heart condition.
Although he was able to receive clearance to continue to pursue his professional career, Hurst’s stock fell despite him being a consensus All-American in the 2017 season. This led to him dropping significantly in the draft where he was taken with the 140th pick in the fifth round by the Oakland Raiders.
The 24-year-old quickly proved to be well worth the risk as he put together a productive rookie campaign recording 31 total tackles with 4.0 sacks, and a forced fumble in 13 games played with 10 starts. He has become a vital piece of the puzzle along the defensive line where he has an opportunity to become a long-term fixture for the franchise.
Hurst recently spoke exclusively to ClutchPoints to discuss his rookie season with the Raiders, playing under head coach Jon Gruden, the franchise’s pending move to Las Vegas, being teammates with Antonio Brown and much more.
Bob Garcia IV: You have your first year under your belt, so did it meet your expectations?
Mo Hurst: It was tough having a losing season. It’s definitely something that is not a fun experience. It was definitely an experience being able to play and be a part of it. I thought it was really amazing to finally achieve something like that after playing football for a very long time.
BG: What has been the biggest transition so far for you going from the collegiate level to the NFL?
MH: The most challenging thing was having that be your full-time commitment. You don’t really have anything to really worry about as far as school or any other outside distractions. So football is your job, and you have to treat it as such. It’s been a little bit different from what I have been used to my whole life — not being to completely focus on the game and transitioning to have it to be my main focus.
BG: Now that you have done that, do you feel like you’re better prepared for this offseason as far as knowing what to expect?
MH: Yeah, it’s definitely helped a lot. Just going to over our plays. Staying in the same system for two years, I have only done once in my whole career. At Michigan, we switched defensive coordinator three or four times so being in the same system I think it’s going to be really beneficial. It helped me a lot with my redshirt junior year to my senior year. I am hoping for the same success going into year two.
BG: As far as transitioning, has there been any teammates that have helped you out with the process both on and off the field?
MH: Yeah, there have been a ton of veterans that have been very helpful. Justin Ellis, who we call Big Jelly, he has been a great role model as someone who works really hard, does everything by the book, be on time, do all the little things right, and how to be a pro. I just try to learn from everyone who has done it and has been a successful player and is well respected. There has been a ton of guys like Derek Carr, Gabe Jackson, and Rodney Hudson. There has been a ton of guys to look up to that have been really successful.
BG: You just played your first year under Jon Gruden, how did that entire experience go?
MH: Yeah, it was great. It’s kind of crazy. It’s a different feeling than what I am used. He always expects more from you than I think you expect from yourself. He always tries to hold to an extremely high standard. He has a lot of passion for the players that he thinks that can be really good and he just loves the game of football. It’s awesome to play for a coach that is that passionate.
BG: Is there any comparisons to that of Jim Harbaugh?
MH: It’s hard to compare them both. Whenever anyone has ever asked me that question, I just told them that their love for football is different than a lot of other people.
BG: As far as you going into your next year, do you have any personal expectations or goals that you are trying to accomplish this offseason or next season?
MH: Just improve and work on my hands. That will be the biggest thing. I feel like last year, basically whatever I accomplished was without using my hands. Making that transition to becoming a complete player, stopping the run, playing double teams better, producing more, and pass rush better. Just all around become a better football player.
BG: Since the Raiders made the move to get Antonio Brown, how has he been so far in your interactions with him as a teammate?
MH: He’s been great and meshed well with a lot of the guys we have on the team. He’s a guy that works really hard in practice and makes the game fun. It’s great to have an explosive part to our offense with someone that can put up 1,000 yards if you throw him enough balls and you know that for a fact. Just to have that element of your offense and those explosive plays, it’s something that we missed last year. You bring that back to our team, and I think it’s going to help a lot in the long run.
BG: What’s your impression of this incoming group of rookies?
MH: Just a great group of guys. I think that’s what [Mike] Mayock was focusing on bringing in. People that are going to define our team and our culture. Brought in some great football players and overall those guys are all really great guys. Really genuine and really great teammates and leaders. You can just tell by the way they kind of carry themselves that they are really going to come in and be pros right away. I think they are going to contribute really early.
BG: That’s one of the qualities that stood out about Clelin Ferrell that Raiders GM Mike Mayock was saying that’s one quality he loved about him that he was a leader in the locker room. Do you see any of that from him so far?
MH: Yeah, I haven’t gotten a chance to really interact with him too much, but the first day that I met him he was having a regular conversation with me where we really talked about football. Just like in general, he’s definitely a guy with a good head on his shoulders. Someone who is an extremely hard worker and has shown that throughout his career. To be named the best out of that Clemson defensive line means a lot because there are a lot of great players on that team.
BG: With all of the moves that the Raiders have made this offseason, who do you look forward to playing with the most on defense?
MH: Probably Vontaze [Burfict]. He’s been a beast. It’s been awesome to be able to watch him play growing up. He just brings the energy to the game that some people might see as him playing dirty, but I think it’s him playing football. It’s football in its truest form. If you threw him back in the old days of playing football, he would be praised in every single way possible. I think he just fits that Raider mold with the toughness that’s expected as a tone-setter I feel that’s someone that teams kind of fear. You are always a little hesitant going over the middle because you know he’s going to be there.
I am just really excited to play with him, and one of the best qualities is that he knows this [defensive] system inside and out. He knows everything that goes into it. He has been a part of it for so many years. It’s just like second nature to him. I think that’s going to be huge for us to have someone like that.
BG: Since he has that familiarity working under Raiders defensive coordinator Paul Gunther with the Bengals. Is that something you ask for advice or tidbits here and there?
MH: Yeah, he knows what a great defensive tackle looks like. He had Geno Atkins basically his whole career. If I can be anything like that, it would be a great thing for me. Just making sure he can rely on me, and I can rely on him. I think that’s the biggest quality that you see in a lot of teams that really do well that they can trust each other. Trust you to do your job and be in your right gap. Just trust being there back and forth.
BG: What do you look forward most to about the Raiders moving to Las Vegas?
MH: It’s the fans. It seems like we have a great fan base out there. I think we are going to travel really well out there. I think it’s going to be really exciting to see the transition of the Black Hole and see how this turns out. It’s going to be really exciting. I think we are going to have a lot of excitement out there.
BG: Who is the toughest offensive lineman that you had to go up against in your first year in the NFL?
MH: Probably Quentin Nelson. He was an All-Pro guard this year. He’s one of my friends, but we didn’t talk to each other during the whole game. It would be weird if we said something funny while we were playing. He’s a great player and a great teammate. I just think he’s going to keep getting better.
BG: Who do you think is the best defensive lineman right now?
MH: Definitely, Aaron Donald. Hands down. The guy’s a mutant. He’s definitely someone that I have looked up to when I was in high school. Just one of the best that I have ever seen play. It’s kind of crazy to watch him in this day and age.
BG: What separates him as a player?
MH: It’s just a combination of a tun of things. It’s his speed, strength, and a little bit of everything. The way he uses his hands. Just a ton of different things.
BG: Who do you think is the best player in the NFL?
MH: Definitely, Tom Brady.
BG: There is no question in your mind about that?
MH: No. He’s definitely the best. The GOAT.
BG: Who has influenced you the most in his football career?
MH: Growing up, I was a really huge fan of Warren Sapp. I had the pleasure of getting to work with him this past camp. That was really cool to get to work with the guy that I kind of modeled myself under growing up. Definitely, Warren Sapp was the guy I looked to try to emulate his playing style.
RG: Who is your favorite Raider legend?
MH: Definitely Charles Woodson. Michigan, I know. A little biased. Definitely C-Wood.
This interview was made possible at Dr. Alex Corbin Liu’s Optometry located in Rowland Heights at 19735 E. Colima Rd. #4 Rowland Heights, CA 91748. Liu has worked with many professional athletes and entertainers alike over the years that include likes of Hurst. For more information visit alexcorbinliu.com.