Aug 20, 2013
By JACK BOGACZYK
HUNTINGTON – Justin Hunt came to Marshall as a Tennessee high school football and track and field champion. He loves to run.
And for much of the Thundering Herd’s August football camp, Hunt has certainly been in the mix at an outside receiver spot.
Yes, Coach Doc Holliday’s team has had recurring preseason dings and nicks involving his pass-catching corps, but no one should be surprised if Hunt’s really in the hunt when Marshall opens the season Aug. 31 against Miami (Ohio).
“It feels really good to get this kind of opportunity,” Hunt said. “I need to keep on working hard, paying attention, listening. I’ve still got to earn my stripes. But if I keep working hard, good things will happen.”
Hunt helped Whitehaven high in Memphis to a Tennessee 6A football title last season. Then in the spring, he ran the 100 hurdles in 14.34 for a state AAA track title (and finished third in the 300 hurdles at 39.06) – which was .40 off his qualifying time.
Three weeks after becoming a track champion in that state meet at Middle Tennessee State – where he will return with the Herd for a Thursday night Conference USA football date on Oct. 24 – the 6-foot-2, 190-pound Hunt was at Marshall in the summer strength and conditioning program.
“The biggest thing when you show up for the first time anywhere, you’ve got to adapt to it mentally, which is fatigue,” said Mike Furrey, Marshall’s first-year wide receivers coach. “That situation is very fatiguing. And then you’ve got to adapt to it physically. So, you hope these kids come in the summer, to summer school and summer workouts and become part of the team.
“Then, he’s already run routes with the quarterbacks. He’s part of lifting and running with the group, so it’s kind of like, ‘I know I belong.’ Physically, they know what they’re dealing with, know the competition.
“Then that part is over with, and then it’s just learning the system. All those things, when you come in early, it relieves a lot of tension rather than showing up Day 1 (of camp) and go play.”
It didn’t take Hunt long to impress Furrey – and another important person in his future.
“He was a great ‘get,’” Herd star quarterback Rakeem Cato said of Hunt’s signing. “He’s a humble kid, works hard, great kid, and once he gets the full experience with the live game, and everything starts clicking, he can be special.
“I can see him maturing every day. The one thing I like about him is he’s listening and he’s learning, and he’s willing to take coaching. He’s just progressing every day. And the more he’s out there, the better he’s going to be.”
Hunt is a quick study on Cato, the 2012 C-USA MVP, too.
“The more balls you catch, the more balls are going to come to you,” Hunt said when asked how he catches the quarterback’s attention in a program that features plenty of throwing and plenty of targets. “So I do everything I can to catch everything he throws, listen to him on routes.
Hunt runs the 40 in about 4.4 or 4.45, he said, and the notion among some in Thundering Herd Nation is to think of the Memphian as the “next Aaron Dobson,” using the tall, rangy receiver with hops who is a New England Patriots rookie after running Herd routes for the past four seasons.
“Hearing that makes me want to work harder,” Hunt said, “but I want to make my own name. I want to be Justin Hunt. But it’s a good thing to hear. It’s a good thing to know they feel you have that potential.”
Furrey doesn’t see Dobson when he watches Hunt.
“To be honest with you, being around them all the time, every guy is different,” said Furrey, who spent seven NFL seasons with St. Louis, Detroit and Cleveland. “You see bodies, and people say 6-3, kind of like Aaron, but Aaron’s more of a smooth, big-time wideout. I see Justin more as a powerful, physical body who can get in and out of breaks … very powerful. They all have different tangibles.
“I think Justin Hunt is Justin Hunt. He looks like (former NFL star) Roy Williams, because he has those gloves and big ol’ hands. You see those things when Justin’s running around.
“But Justin’s very powerful, and that’s how Calvin (Johnson, the Lions’ All-Pro) plays, a powerful guy, but Calvin can get to 4.3 in those first two steps.
“There are all these things you can relate between guys, but Justin is Justin Hunt and I think he’s going to make a name for himself, where people will compare other guys to him -- and we’re excited about that.”
Hunt has played both the X and Z receiver spots in the open portion camp, and Furrey said the freshman will continue to line up on both sides so the Herd can mix and match as much as possible with a deep receiving corps that also includes the occasional H-back (tight end) in the slot.
Hunt said he’s learned a lot from Furrey, and that every day is a learning experience for one of the two freshmen receivers (with Josh Knight) that junior slot man Tommy Shuler calls “young bucks.”
“Everything is way, way faster than in high school,” said Hunt, who picked the Herd because of his opportunity to catch balls for a team that averaged a nation-leading 90 plays per game and 350 air yards last season. “No. 1, I have to learn how to step up my game to the speed. No. 2, I have to block better than I have been, so our running backs can get the alleys and score touchdowns for the Herd.
“I’m still learning the system. If I keep going hard, (Furrey) will accept that. If I’m doing something wrong on the film, he’ll correct me, but he wants to see you go hard all the time. That’s the most important thing. As long as I’m working hard, learning the plays, I’ll be all right.”
Hunt said his goals for the season are simple.
“I want to get better in everything I do,” he said/ “I want to be the best to play the game, to do it for my family, my Mom, my Dad, four sisters, a brother (Hunt said he’s “in the middle” of his siblings). I want to help this program win again.”
Furrey said Hunt has the right ingredients.
“I think we’re pretty excited about him so far,” the MU receivers coach said. “And the main reason we’re excited is he can push the guys that we have coming back – which he’s doing.
“He came in with the right demeanor, came in with the attitude that he was going to contribute, and work hard and to start -- and that was his goal.
“And when you’ve got a guy like that who has the athletic ability and those kind of goals and the attitude of getting in here and adapting as fast as he’s adapted, it makes our (wide receivers) room better. Like I said, he’s going to make a name for himself.”