COLLEGE STATION, Texas -- When Texas A&M defensive back Toney Hurd stepped in front of a Bo Wallace pass last Saturday and slid safely to the turf to secure one of the Aggies' most thrilling wins in recent memory, teammate Steven Terrell wasn't surprised.
The senior safety has seen Hurd do his due diligence when it comes to film study. It's paying dividends, with Hurd's game-clinching interception being the latest piece of evidence as the Aggies pulled out a 30-27 come-from-behind victory at Ole Miss last week.
"He's been really studying the game," Terrell said. "He really watches a lot of film ... so it's almost like he's out there cheating. He knows exactly when teams are going to stuff and things like that. He's done a great job of triggering and letting go and throwing his body around and things like that. He's been making plays for us since the spring, so it doesn't surprise me that he came up with that game-winning interception."
Hurd, a junior from Marshall High School in Missouri City, Texas, said he looks at each game like an exam. Taking that approach when looking at video helps him prepare.
"Honestly, I feel like it's like studying for a test," Hurd said. "If they're going to give you the answers, you might as well study them and figure them out while you can. It gets you ahead and it gives you an edge going into the game."
Going back to his Marshall days, Hurd has been a student of the game. He attributes his improvement in that department to former Aggies cornerback Terrence Frederick, another Houston-area product, who was Hurd's teammate for the last two years.
"Honestly, T-Fred taught me how to watch film," Hurd said. "I kind of look at it from a receiver's point of view. What are they thinking? When they see me in front of them, inside or outside leverage, what are they thinking? Then from there, I make my game plan of what I want to do and how I'm going to try to trick them, because all they're trying to do is line up and trick us. So I try to figure out, according to the formation and where the back is aligned and where they're at on the field, what I can do to get an edge."
His size (5-foot-9) is a reason Hurd looks for that extra edge. That's another approach that goes back to his high school days.
"Personally, I felt like I had to watch film because I'm not the biggest guy in the world," he said. "So that kind of gave me a mental edge and it helped me basically become a better athlete."
His great understanding of the game as a result of his intense studying has helped him become a versatile option on the field for the Aggies this season. He has been among the most versatile players on the roster, playing nickel cornerback, safety, and on special teams. That flexibility has come in handy for defensive coordinator Mark Snyder, who has been able to move pieces around based on matchups or injuries.
"He's a football head, he loves football, he loves to compete," Snyder said. "He's a good football player. Football makes sense to him."
He has played in all five games but with only two starts. Even so, Hurd has seen the field plenty and is third on the team in tackles (31) and tied for third in tackles for loss (three). And his versatility has even helped the Aggies deceive opponents.
"I think our defense has done a nice job with interchangeable parts, moving guys around," coach Kevin Sumlin said. "Deshazor [Everett] has been moving around [and] the ability to have Toney play some nickel, play some safety [has helped]. ... Because of that, I think it's been very hard for people to get a bead on where we are and who's playing and what kind of coverages we're in. But Toney is smart and he's a good tackler. He makes plays on special teams, he makes plays in space and he's another high effort, high energy guy that I'm glad he's here."
Hurd is also a good student off the field: the general studies major was a second-team Academic All-Big 12 selection last season. He said after Saturday's win that he felt he didn't play a good game and Snyder acknowledged on Tuesday that Hurd struggled a bit throughout the night. But with 1:09 left, he bounced back -- in a big way -- with a play that he, nor his fellow Aggies, will soon forget.
"Oh my God, after the game it still felt like a dream," Hurd said. "It took me awhile to sit down and realize that it was real. When I dove on the ground and my teammates bum-rushed me, J-Stew [linebacker Jonathan Stewart] hit me like Ray Lewis and knocked the air out of me, but it felt great for the team."