Tori Gurley’s career as a television sports analyst and commentator has put together, in a perfect blend, the two skill sets he learned most while a student-athlete at South Carolina.
A football player for the Gamecocks (2009-10) who studied psychology, Gurley’s on-field insight and educational background give him a leg up when it comes to analysis.
“I have the best of both worlds. At one point I could only speak from a player perspective. But now I can speak as a journalist. I can mix those together. I can speak with athletes and, with whatever they’re going through, have a real conversation.
“On camera it comes across as genuine and [people will learn]. Sometimes you look at athletes and think they’re just athletes, but as time goes on you start to realize these guys go through a lot.
“Just being able to shine light and bridge that gap between athletes and people, it’s really cool.”
Gurley works as an NFL, college football and fantasy football analyst for AXS TV, a network that bills itself “devoted primarily to live music programming, entertainment and combat sports.” He also does work for the SEC Network and The Paul Finebaum Show.
Though Gurley’s career has been put on hold because of the novel coronavirus pandemic, the South Carolina alumnus believes both the college football and NFL seasons will take place on time this coming fall.
“I look forward to the college season getting started on time,” he said. “Same thing in the NFL. The door is already open and they’re slowing bringing people in.
“But I think NFL training camps will start on their regular dates. Their might not be fans in the stadiums, but they’re going to play because of television — so they can get that money to go toward the salary cap. I think the ball is going to keep rolling.”
Gurley respects arguments both for and against playing with and without fans in attendance.
“A young Tori, I would want to play. Because you’re in school for two reasons, to get an education and to get to the NFL,” he said. “It’s kind of hard to tell somebody ... when they show up on campus, when you show up in the SEC and you’re playing against the best of the best, that they can’t play [with fans]. Because players want to reap the benefits. That comes by playing in games and making a name for yourself. I think that’s what motivates and inspires a lot of these young athletes to go out and perform on a big stage.
“... But for someone who has been there and done that, if I was a parent, I’d be reluctant because I wouldn’t want my child to go out there and get sick.”
Gurley has spent his coronavirus quarantine watching all South Carolina football games from this past fall as well as most games from the 12 NFL teams that made the playoffs last season.
He has also spent time reflecting on his South Carolina career and the program he played for.
In a recent conversation with Spurs & Feathers, Gurley spoke about the lineage of great receivers — from Sterling Sharpe to Alshon Jeffery, Bryan Edwards and Deebo Samuel — who have played for the Gamecocks.
“It’s something we’ve been able to watch grow right in front of our eyes,” Gurley said. “It was a standard that was set, I want to say, with Sterling Sharpe. Even though he doesn’t get talked about as much, Sterling is still the GOAT (Greatest Of All Time). He paved the way for us. Especially for me, in television, he’s a guy that I’ve really leaned on.
“...With everyone else, we wanted to be the best. Everyone in their mind feels like they’re the best receiver to come through. And the only way you can prove it is by going out and making plays on Saturdays and in practice.
“ ... It’s a testament to the hard work the guys put in.”
Gurley said he knew Samuel would have a quality rookie season — he finished with 57 catches for 802 yards and three touchdowns and also three rushing touchdowns — last fall because of the pedigree of 49ers’ head coach Kyle Shanahan, an offensive guru who Gurley played for while with the Cleveland Browns.
“I saw what he did with talent that wasn’t Deebo [quality]. Deebo Samuel is [former NFL standout] Pierre Garçon 2.0,” Gurley said. “ ... When the Redskins had Santana Moss and Pierre Garçon with Rex Grossman, both of those receivers had 1,000 yards. It’s the same scheme, same playbook. And those are guys who are older.
“Deebo, he’s in his prime and he’s healthy. With Deebo, it was a match made in heaven. ... Anything Deebo wanted to do in the middle of the field, it was one on one. And there aren’t really too many guys who can defend him.”
Gurley expects similar production from Edwards, who was drafted by the Las Vegas Raiders in the third round of April’s NFL Draft.
“He’s going into a great situation with the West Coast offense and Jon Gruden,” Gurley said. “And Gruden loves big, physical receivers. He was able to do a lot with Keyshawn Johnson and so many other guys along the way.
“Now having a guy like Bryan Edwards who’s going to play hard and do the right thing, I think he can have a good season where he goes for at least 700 yards.”
Gurley played for South Carolina for two seasons and in 27 games played had 75 catches for 905 yards and six touchdowns. The Gamecocks beat Clemson both those seasons, including a 34-17 win over the then No. 15 Tigers.
“That rivalry game, just understanding like, it really wasn’t a rivalry because those guys were scared of us,” Gurley said. “We had a team that was able to intimidate them. We were able to flex on those guys because they just weren’t on our level.”
Of course Gurley has vivid memories from when the Gamecocks knocked off No. 1 Alabama 35-21 on Oct. 9, 2010.
“I knew we were going to win the game. It was a different type of confidence that we had,” Gurley said. “Coach Spurrier, I think that was as locked in as I’ve ever seen him. ... When I went into the office and looked at the scheme, we just sat there and said, ‘Man, we’re going to stick it to Nick Saban.’
“One of the coolest things, right before kickoff, I stood across the field and I just stared them down. Saban, Julio Jones and Mark Ingram. I was thinking, ‘Man, you guys don’t know what you’re about to get yourself into.’“
Gurley remembers the raucous crowd at Williams-Brice Stadium that day, and how South Carolina scored on an 80-yard drive on its first possession.
“That’s when Williams-Brice just took over,” he said. “You really couldn’t hear anything. But we were so locked in. And when we were on offense it was quiet. When the defense was on the field, oh my, it sounded like a concert.
“It sounded like a gladiator arena.”
The game also evokes memories of Jeffery.
“I watched Alshon do stuff in practice that, I knew this guy was special,” Gurley said. “The between the elbows catch against Alabama. He didn’t catch it with his hands. He caught it with his elbows. You have a defensive back draped all over you, it’s a CBS game, 80,000 fans, millions of viewers, and to see him come down with that ball, it was like, ‘This dude is scary.’
“Same thing with Ace Sanders. And Kenny McKinley was a guy I leaned on a lot when I was coming up.”
After leaving school Gurley spent time with the Green Bay Packers, Minnesota Vikings, Oakland Raiders, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, San Diego Chargers, Baltimore Ravens, Browns and Buffalo Bills, mostly on practice squads.
Now retired, he looks back fondly on his time in Columbia. He still keeps in touch with former South Carolina baseball players Jackie Bradley Jr. and Whit Merrifield as well as women’s basketball coach Dawn Staley.
“I’ve been blessed to be around some brilliant people,” Gurley said. “I’m just happy some of it rubbed off on me. I think it’s starting to pay dividends on what I’m doing in my life.
“The relationships I made will last a lifetime.”
Along with his commentating responsibilities, Gurley also runs Home Field Advantage, an organization that helps mentor teenagers and puts them on a path toward attending college.
Overall, the Gamecock alumnus wants to provide opportunities and be an inspiration.
Said Gurley, “If you work hard, you dreams can come true.”