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Tuesday, September 2, 2014
It was an eventful holiday weekend for North Augusta native Matt Hazel.
The star receiver at North Augusta High School and Coastal Carolina had just completed his first NFL training camp after being selected in the sixth round of this year’s draft by the Miami Dolphins.
Hazel showed steady improvement throughout the preseason, and even caught a touchdown in Miami’s final preseason game against the St. Louis Rams last week. But when the Dolphins set their final 53-man roster for the regular season Saturday, Hazel didn’t survive the last round of cuts.
He wasn’t out of work for long.
After clearing waivers Sunday, Hazel was quickly re-signed to Miami’s practice squad. He’ll rejoin the Dolphins, who were anxious to keep him.
“It’s been pretty crazy. … When they cut me, they told me they wanted me on the practice squad and that they have big plans for me. They were worried I’d get claimed by another team,” Hazel said on the phone Monday. “We had a great battle at the receiver position in Miami, and they kept five guys, but wanted me on the practice squad. If anybody goes down, I’ll be the first one added to the active roster.”
Although no team claimed Hazel, he said his agent received calls from other NFL organizations about adding him to their practice squads. He stuck with the Dolphins and is optimistic this is the gateway to bigger and better things.
“It’s great, I’m still a part of the NFL,” the 22-year-old Hazel said of continuing his childhood dream of playing in the NFL. “I get to come out everyday, practice with the team and get better.”
As a member of the practice squad, Hazel will be able to hone his skills. That will include physical fundamentals, like sprinting and running routes, as well as catching the ball.
He also mentioned its another chance to work on the mental side of the game, getting in the team’s classrooms to study football’s highest level of play.
“It’s almost like being redshirted,” Hazel said. “Everything happens for a reason, and I’ll be ready.”
Although he only has one preseason under his belt, it was a fairly eventful one for Hazel. He caught six passes for 87 yards and a touchdown. He was also on the receiving end of a violent hit in the Dolphins’ preseason game against the Dallas Cowboys.
After a pass near the goal line sailed out of Hazel’s reach, he was clocked by Cowboys safety Ahmad Dixon, who was penalized for unnecessary roughness. Dixon was also fined $22,050 for hitting a defenseless player in the head and neck area and was cut on Monday.
When asked about the play, Hazel laughed and didn’t have any negative comments from the rough play he was able to walk away from.
“It’s just one of those things that happens. It was a big hit, but I got up and had no bad effects,” said Hazel, who only had positive impressions from training camp. “It’s preseason, but it’s still the NFL. It’s a great opportunity, and I was able to go out and show what I can do. I even caught my first touchdown.”