UNC tackle James Hurst breaks a leg in the Heels' Belk Bowl victory

acarter@newsobserver.comDecember 28, 2013 

— Less than five months separated North Carolina senior left tackle James Hurst from hearing his name called in the NFL draft. Now, Hurst’s draft prospects are in doubt after he broke his left leg during the 39-17 victory Saturday against Cincinnati in the Belk Bowl.

Hurst, who started his 49th college game Saturday, had been projected as a first-round pick. He was injured on UNC’s final possession of the first quarter, and then he hopped off the field on one leg with the assistance of UNC’s training staff. Hurst’s 49 starts are a school record.

A UNC spokesman said Hurst had endured a non-displaced fracture in his left fibula. It’s unclear how long his rehabilitation process is expected to be, but the injury undoubtedly will affect Hurst’s preparation for the draft, which will begin May 8.

“Every day we go out there, we risk our life,” said junior tight end Eric Ebron, who has announced his intention to enter the draft. “Anything can happen. People have died. People have gotten injured. Things happen on a football field.”

Nick Appel, a junior, played left tackle after Hurst’s injury.

“That was tough, now,” coach Larry Fedora said. “James is a senior and playing in his last game in Carolina blue. That was tough to see him go down. And Appel stepped right up and we didn’t miss a beat.”

Boston moved to LB: The Tar Heels have been shorthanded at linebacker all season, and that situation worsened Saturday. An injury limited middle linebacker Jeff Schoettmer. Travis Hughes, a junior, didn’t play.

The Tar Heels turned to Tre Boston, a senior safety, for relief. Boston said he played all but about 10 snaps at linebacker Saturday. He had never played the position before. While Boston played linebacker, UNC moved Tim Scott, a cornerback, to safety.

“I loved to come down in that box and show how physical I can be, and it’s just one of those things that I like to have fun,” Boston said. “Those are big guys in there and they don’t expect me to come in with power. And I really like to get my hands on the big guys.”

Boston led UNC with nine sacks this season. He also had a late interception, and left the locker room clutching the ball he’d intercepted.

“This is the last pick,” Boston said. “The referee asked for it back, I wasn’t giving it. I had to keep it … I’ve got to put it up in the shrine. My mom has a nice little trophy case for me since I was a little kid.

“Hey, got to put this in the case.”

Etc.: Ebron had a game-high seven catches for 78 yards, and he finished the season with 973 receiving yards – the most by a tight end in ACC history. His 973 receiving yards also are the fourth-most in school history regardless of position. … UNC’s safety during the first quarter was its first since 2009 against Connecticut. … Ryan Switzer, the bowl most valuable player, now has the most punt returns for touchdowns in school history with five. … UNC improved to 1-3 in bowls in Charlotte.

Carter: 919-829-8944; Twitter: @_andrewcarter

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