Overcoming injuries, making sacrifices help walk-on find niche at Rutgers
Long before he made a game-saving sack Saturday against Navy — before he even came to Rutgers — redshirt freshman safety Andre Hunt went through so much pain that he thought his football days were numbered.
At the end of his sophomore year at Cretin-Durham Hall (Minnesota) High School, Hunt tore an ACL. After graduating in 2011, he came home from prep school one day and blew out his other knee while working out.
Frustration began to set in.
“After that second one, I was on the edge of quitting,” Hunt said. “Just going through the process of recovery and rehab — all that — it kind of plays with your mind of what you’re going to do. I just have to thank all my friends, my family just to continue to do what I love to do. Without them, I probably wouldn’t even be here right now.”
Deciding not to abandon the sport he loved was only the first of many pleasant twists in the Eagan, Minnesota native’s journey to Piscataway.
After Hunt played for a year at Hargrave Military Academy in Virginia, his father received a call from the school’s coach, who said Rutgers was looking for a running back to walk on.
It was a dream scenario for Hunt, who played running back all throughout high school. He grew up knowing more about Rutgers than most in Minnesota, since his father is from Trenton.
So, Hunt took a chance.
“I have family that lives in New Jersey, so I was excited. It was a good fit,” he said. “I’ve watched Rutgers play on TV, I had watched Ray Rice. This is like a second home to me.”
But when Hunt finally arrived at Rutgers last summer, running back quickly became an afterthought.
After playing running back for one week of camp, the 6-foot, 190-pounder moved to receiver as the Knights sought to consolidate numbers and give the defense extra looks from the position.
Another switch came when head coach Kyle Flood called Hunt into his office during Pinstripe Bowl preparation. An opportunity arose for increased reps at safety.
Hunt obliged without hesitation.
“Coming in, I had the mindset really that I could probably play anywhere, wherever they put me,” he said. “Even if that’s linebacker, if I’ve got to gain 30 pounds, then I’ll do it. I’ll do whatever it takes to contribute to the team and just do what I can to help us win.”
It was hardly an easy transition, as Hunt had to learn a series of new techniques as a member of the scout team. Spring ball was when he really began to consume deeper concepts at the position.
But selflessness, as well as an uncompromising willingness to show his teammates and coaches that he can contribute, are paying off in more ways than one.
After playing sparingly on special teams in Rutgers’ first two games of the season, Hunt saw his first-ever action on defense after sophomore safety Delon Stephenson went down in the first quarter against Navy with an injury.
Hunt’s debut — three solo tackles, including a pivotal red-zone sack on Navy’s final drive to help seal the Knights’ win — quickly turned heads and garnered high praise in the locker room postgame.
But his blue-collar work ethic off the field resonates the most with his teammates.
“Andre Hunt is just a standup guy. He just goes about his business,” said senior free safety Johnathan Aiken. “He doesn’t say too much. Once he gets comfortable, he likes to have fun with you, but he just does his work. ... I was happy for him to show that his hard work paid off.”
Hunt is likely to get another opportunity to play meaningful snaps this Saturday against Tulane with Stephenson and two corners listed as questionable.
Aiken said he and Hunt are currently rotating at free safety in practice, while senior Lorenzo Waters and sophomore Davon Jacobs are rotating at strong safety. Hunt is also seeing action this week in some of Rutgers’ subpackages.
It’s more than he ever expected as a walk-on from Minnesota — one who seriously considered walking away from football only a few years ago.
Yet his role continues to soar, and all Hunt can do is thank those who urged him to not lose sight of his dream.
“My parents really encouraged me to stick with it and work hard,” he said. “Sure enough, it’s just a blessing to be where I’m at right now.”
For updates on the Rutgers football team, follow @gregp_j and @TargumSports on Twitter.