For the Centreville Tigers one special bond has been prevalent for much longer than varsity athletics, a close knit relationship that harkens back to childhood.
Centreville seniors Hunter Devall and Cliff Hurst have been playing baseball together since tee-ball and minus a two year separation during their freshman and sophomore seasons the second cousins have parted ways on the baseball diamond after graduating last month.
Growing up less than a mile from each other in a large closely tied family in Clinton, the two will now embark on different paths. The much heralded southpaw Devall will continue playing baseball. Devall signed with perennial national power and arguably the nation’s best college baseball program, LSU.
Conversely Hurst, who was just named the MAIS Most Valuable Player in baseball, will pursue his first love at the University of Southern Mississippi as a walk-on with the Golden Eagles football team.
Devall and Hurst realized the time for parting ways on the diamond was inevitable, but they also have a deep appreciation and admiration for one another.
“It’s been great to be able to play with Cliff for so long,” said Devall. “We started t-ball and finished as seniors with a few trophies in hand. Cliff is a tough competitor and we seemed to feed off each other. In little league we would split innings pitched in every game. I would throw three and then he would throw the next three. In high school we split games instead of innings. Cliff and I are cousins and always had a ton of family support which made it all even better. Summer baseball was a way of life for us. You could find us doing one of two things.... fishing a pond or on the road somewhere playing the game. I could not begin to tell you the amount of time we have spent together practicing and playing, Now that we have graduated we will be going in different directions, actually different states. It has been a great ride with a lot of good memories that we will always look back on. Cliff is a good athlete and I know he will excel at Southern Miss. I wish him the best. I will be cheering him on and know he will be doing the same for me.”
For Hurst there would be no question as to whether he would be heavily involved in athletics. “Cliff’s first word as a baby was ball,” said Bonnie Hurst.
That combined with both his and Hunter’s ties to a Mississippi High School coaching legend paved the path to a life of sports. Both are nephews to coaching legend Bill Hurst who has been at the pinnacle of football success at Centreville Academy football for decades.
From his first homerun as an 8 year old playing at the Haynes Little League Park in Clinton to his last in a 4-0 win over Marshall Academy in the state championship game Hurst has excelled. “It didn’t take long for folks to figure out not to park too close to the fence at Cliff’s little league games,” said Bonnie Hurst. “Several windshields were victims early on.”
From his early days of little league through his high school career Hurst belted 103 homeruns.
Although hitting .386 and belting out 10 homeruns his senior season Hurst was also stellar on the mound for Centreville. The right-hander mounted a 10-2 record accompanied by a 1.09 ERA.
Remarkably Hurst, who was named the MAIS MVP, received very little attention from recruiters which underscores today’s nature of college athletics to many. In many instances families aren’t savvy in the evolving system of recruiting that requires bringing talent to recruiters as opposed to recruiters finding the talent.
Fortunately for Hurst his love of football has motivated him since the 8th grade, his first year of varsity football. A starter at tailback and linebacker his freshman year was coupled with punting and kicking duties that he fulfilled throughout his five years of varsity football at Centreville. What came with the hard work on the gridiron were two state championship rings and a talent in the kicking game.
Hurst began turning heads while attending the Ray Guy Pro-Kicker.com camps regularly and was often ranked among the best punters in the nation. That talent is what the 6’ & 215 lb Hurst is relying on to fulfill his dream of playing college football in the fall.
Hurst too understands the brevity of his time at Centreville and the thought of not sharing the same uniform with his cousin. "Hunter and I have had a good time growing up together and playing ball,” said Hurst. “We’ve created a lot of memories that we’ll cherish for the rest of our lives. I have always dreamed of him and I being able to continue to play ball together at the next level, but it didn't work out. I wish him the best at LSU. All good things must come to an end, but at the same time it isn't an end, but a new beginning.
"As far as my career at Centreville, I've made a lot of friends and was able to accomplish more than many dream of, thanks to family, friends, coaches and the good Lord.
"From my 1st State Championship as an eighth grader playing tight-end and punting in football, to being the winning pitcher in my 4th State Championship in baseball my senior year, I've been fortunate to create many memories with some of the greatest guys anyone could ever hope to have as teammates," Hurst said.
Since making the All-District squad as an 8th grader, Devall has been devouring opposing batters. He recorded 15 strikeouts against Bowling Green that season, and the southpaw has been nothing short of phenomenal on the mound ever since.
Except for a two year stretch, in which he transferred to Zachary High School, Devall has attended school alongside Hurst since Pre-K. Both were pulled up from the Tigers' junior varsity baseball team during their 8th grade seasons and helped Centreville earn a playoff spot where they would ultimately advance to the South State Championship series.
Devall’s dream of playing college athletics took a different path than his cousin Cliff’s. The recruiting of Devall started in his junior year at Centreville and culminated with him signing with LSU prior to his senior season.
The pressure associated with signing with a national power in college baseball can be immense, but Devall showed little evidence of it affecting his talent of pitching.
The southpaw produced a 7-1 mark with three saves to his credit and was hands down the most dominant pitcher in the MAIS this season.
In the back to back state title seasons Devall’s resume spoke for itself. Those two seasons saw Devall go 17-2 with 280 strikeouts and 7 saves and a dominating ERA of 0.88 and the lefty hit .312 at the plate for the Tigers his senior year.
In Devall’s past four seasons of baseball that included summer and fall baseball tournaments in Florida, Georgia, Mississippi and Louisiana he suffered just two losses.
Devall has already started attending classes at LSU and will embark on following in the footsteps of two other MAIS greats who played at Alex Box Stadium - former Central Private stand-out and fellow southpaw, Lane Mestepey and Louis Coleman, who is a current member of the Kansas City Royals by way of Pillow Academy.
Both Hurst and Devall are quick to recognize the huge support from their families and the Centreville community of supporters, but the unity shared by members of the Centreville baseball team is also shared amongst the parents who have been faithful in their support and never wavered when it came to providing everything needed to achieve success on the baseball field.
“Cliff Sr. and I are so thankful to God for the blessings he has bestowed upon our son,” said Bonnie Hurst. “We are proud of his success not only as an athlete, but also as a student at Centreville Academy. None of what he accomplished could have been possible without so many wonderful people teaching, coaching, supporting, and loving him along the way. He hopes to be successful in his dream to play on a college football team and will be at the University of Southern Mississippi in Hattiesburg this fall pursuing that dream, and somewhere in the crowd, like so many times before we will be there to cheer him on.”
“Tiger Baseball was a blast,” said Jana Devall, Hunter’s mother. “It was amazing to see this team accomplish so much in such a short amount of time. We approached Coach Horne and asked what the program needed the most to be successful. What would make it complete and give the Tigers the best opportunity to accomplish their goals for the upcoming seasons?
"We were expecting the answer to be uniforms, equipment or something along those lines. His answer was a field house. I thought we had surely bitten off more than we could chew," said Jana.
"The school got behind the team while the players and parents raised money like crazy. Six months later before the start of the season (2011), they were in a new field house. That was the start of an awesome two years," she said. "The parents and family promised the boys that we would do our part to help, but they had to be totally dedicated in reaching their goal at hand. I really believe that they refused to let anyone down. They played bigger than life and kept their word."
Jana said where the team lacked in talent, they made up for in character. Character was always the most important tool, she said.
"To be the first team in 42 years to win not only a state championship but back to back titles, will always be larger than life. We are so thankful that Hunter had the opportunity to play for Centreville Academy under the instruction of Coach Horne and Coach Mann. What made this program successful was the complete unity of the coaches, players, fans, community and school. Don't get me wrong, there was a ton of talent on this team, but what was so amazing is how everyone worked together to bring out the best. It was all positive energy. I have never been around anything like it. This was a special group of players, parents, and fans that we will never forget,” Jana said.
Although Devall and Hurst won't connected at the hip, they have been their entire lives. One has to imagine that their cell phones will stay busy after LSU baseball and Southern Miss football games as the two trade experiences and reflect on their days at Centreville Academy.
It’s also easy to imagine that both will one day have sons who will probably don the purple and gold of Centreville Academy and share stories of their father’s feats and accomplishments on the field.