July 15, 2013
By JACK BOGACZYK
HUNTINGTON – In soccer, it often helps to use your head.
Marshall midfielder Zach Hunter is proof of that, for a few reasons. He already is a four-time member of the Conference USA Commissioner’s Honor Roll.
And if Hunter and his Thundering Herd teammates are enthused and overjoyed about moving into a new stadium next month, the redshirt senior from Marietta, Ga., has good reason to look beyond 2013 with veteran men’s Coach Bob Gray’s program.
Hunter, a first-time member of the C-USA All-Academic Team last fall, is Marshall’s 2013 recipient of a Jim Castaneda Postgraduate Scholarship from the conference. A $4,000 grant is presented annually to one student-athlete at each of the C-USA members for postgraduate study.
“It was an honor to be selected,” said Hunter, a redshirt senior who will be a captain as one of only four seniors on a very young team Gray will field this coming season. “I’m hoping to go to med school after I graduate in December.”
Hunter already would have done that diploma walk, except for the fact that he tore an anterior cruciate ligament in the spring of 2011 and subsequently underwent surgery.
Rather than take a chance on a quick rehab that could have limited his play that fall, he took a redshirt year … and at the same time, converted what had been a minor in applied mathematics into a second major.
Entering his final undergraduate semester, Hunter owns a 3.73 grade point average while majoring in chemistry and applied math.
He’s the eighth C-USA Postgraduate Scholarship from Marshall, following Tyson Gale, Ian O’Connor and Jeff Mullins (football), Elizabeth Fleming and Kristin Marcum (volleyball), Camilla Overup (swimming) and Britani Keeney (track and field).
Hunter has applied for postgraduate work at the MU School of Medicine, the University of Oregon and Georgia Regents University, and it awaiting acceptance. His choice would be to stay in Huntington and continue his education at Marshall.
There’s good reason for that.
Hunter’s father, David, grew up in Huntington and graduated from Marshall. Hunter’s parents settled in his mother Marsha’s native Georgia, but they spent plenty of family visiting time with the player’s grandparents, Willard and Carolyn Hunter.
Hunter’s grandmother worked for three decades at MU, retiring as vice president of development. Her respect on campus is reflected in the Dr. Carolyn B. Hunter Distinguished Faculty Service Award, which was named for her in 2003.
“I’ve been here five years and I love it here,” said Hunter, who is working this summer in MU’s Department of Chemistry.
On the soccer side, the 5-foot-9 Hunter’s decision to redshirt in 2011 means that unlike his soccer classmates he entered Marshall with in 2009, he will get one season in the Veterans Memorial Soccer Complex when it opens this season.
“The redshirt was a blessing in disguise,” Hunter said. “It gives me one year in the new stadium and I’m really excited about that. We’re really looking forward to getting in there. It’s going to make a big difference in our program.”
Hunter said he’s still up in the air on what field of medicine he wants to enter, but after undergoing knee surgery and learning some of the ins and outs involved with that process, he likes orthopedics.
The C-USA postgraduate scholarship isn’t Hunter’s lone academic grant. He also has the NASA West Virginia Space Grant Consortium Research Fellowship, also worth $4,000.
Hunter said he is working with Dr. Scott Day, MU chemistry assistant professor, on nanochemistry and analytical chemistry in the soccer player’s project. When he completes the work on bioanalytical sensors, he will submit a report on his research to NASA.
Asked how he deals with the combination of academic rigors and Division I soccer, Hunter laughed and said, “I’d say it’s a product of a lack of sleep.”
“No, really, it’s all about time management. It’s really important to prioritize and make sure you have time for everything. You’ve got practice, weights, conditioning, but there’s also an emphasis on getting my studies done.
“My priority after soccer is school.”
Gray, who calls Hunter “the Scrapper,” because of his knack for being around the ball, said having a fifth-year senior available to set an example will be valuable to a team with 12 freshmen on the 2013 roster.
“Zach’s a blue-collar player,” said Gray, who enters his 19th season heading the Herd. “He’s a guy who works his tail off and he’s probably the fittest guy on the team. He has a great desire to win, and that obviously reflects on everything he does in life.
“He will probably become a doctor, which says a lot. He’s the kind of person and player who makes our team tick. He’s got an engine that just doesn’t quit. He’s pretty much been a starter since he got here, and now he’s one of our leaders, and him being a fifth-year senior makes him more important to us.”
With the changes in C-USA membership, the quality and depth of men’s soccer in the league is improved, too. It’s now a 10-team group, with perennial top 25 teams New Mexico (affiliate member), Charlotte – the NCAA runner-up in 2011 -- and Old Dominion joining the league.
Only seven qualify for the C-USA Tournament.
In tandem with those changes, the Herd opens its new, 1,006-seat soccer venue at the corner of Fifth Avenue and 26th Street, where Gray’s club has 11 regular-season home dates after an Aug. 23 debut against an MU Alumni Team in the facility’s opener.
The Herd schedule includes nine foes from the 2012 NCAA field – Akron (exhibition game), Charlotte, Cleveland State, Kentucky, New Mexico, Old Dominion, Maryland, Tulsa and UAB.
Six of those are C-USA opponents, too.
“Some of the teams we’ve picked up are really good,” Hunter said of the revamped C-USA. ‘The conference was good before, but it will be tough this year, and we’ll be really young. Those 12 freshmen, we had about the same number when I came in and I started, so maybe some of these new guys will come in and step up right away.
“The new stadium will give us a boost. We’re excited about getting in there. I’ve been checking it out on a regular basis. I go to Kroger (across the street from the Veterans Memorial Complex) over there about once every other week, so I stop and look at it. And when we had our elite camp, we jogged up there and went out on the turf.
‘We can’t wait to get in there. It’s going to be special.”