Vols' Justin Hunter knocking off the rust

Freshman jumper trying to balance time between classes, track and football

Tennessee’s Justin Hunter, a freshman on the football and track teams, is shown in competition at the USA World Junior Championships. Hunter was fourth in the long jump at the Penn Relays on Friday, April 29, 2011.

Photo by John Nepolitan/Special to the News Sentinel

Tennessee’s Justin Hunter, a freshman on the football and track teams, is shown in competition at the USA World Junior Championships. Hunter was fourth in the long jump at the Penn Relays on Friday, April 29, 2011.

Rust would have been understandable, acceptable and surely inevitable.

With just one practice under his belt after a long, grueling football season, Justin Hunter even expected it to take some time off before he got his groove back as a jumper for the Tennessee track team.

Apparently that was all the freakish freshman needed to get acclimated to life without pads again though, removing any doubt about his pure athleticism with a debut the Vols could be talking about for a long time. Without so much as a second workout, Hunter snuck into the finals two weeks ago at Kentucky, then set a personal best in the long jump, established a school record for freshmen and automatically qualified for the NCAA indoor championships when he got there.

“I don’t even know how it happened,” Hunter said of his jump of 26 feet, 1 inch, the fifth-best jump in the nation this year. “I was just going out there trying to jump 24 (feet), just get back into the rhythm that I was in high school.

“I don’t know, I guess football just helped me do that.”

If that’s the case, Hunter will continue to benefit from the overlap in his two sports at UT throughout the spring, as he did Friday night at the Penn State National meet in University Park, Pa., when Hunter broke his freshman record with a leap of 26-1½.

A breakout performer with seven touchdowns as a wide receiver last fall, Hunter is still splitting time between weightlifting sessions with new strength coach Ron McKeefery designed to add some bulk to his frame for football and practices with the track team engineered to make that body fly as high and far as possible.

There doesn't appear to be any definitive plans for how the balancing act will be managed during the spring, though Hunter likely will have to sacrifice some meets in favor of football practices. But as he's already discovered, there seems to be some useful carryover from one sport to the other.

"It did surprise me," Hunter said. "In high school, I never came out and jumped a (personal record) in my first meet. I had to at least get some practice in before I could do it. I guess since I was moving around so much, I think I was able to do it.

"I'm still picking up a lot of things I need to improve on, just my approach is to keep it consistent. Explode and be aggressive when I'm coming up to a board or a bar, either way. In that first meet, I came out and barely made the finals. I think I was a little rusty right around there, then I ended up picking it up. Just need a little more practicing as time goes on."

Between the two sports, there figures to be plenty of practice to go around for Hunter.

The trick is managing his time between the two, which at least based on early returns doesn't look like it will be a problem.

"I think it's like the same thing," Hunter said. "For a (track) game plan, it's just like practicing your steps. It's basically similar, because you go over it every day so you don't lose your technique. You want to keep the same technique, just like running routes.

"I just have a schedule in my head. I've got to be at this spot at a certain time. Basically my day is class first, then I've got track practice and then right after that I've got to run over to the facility and practice for them. I get a little winded at times, but it's straight. I can handle it."

Austin Ward covers Tennessee football. He may be reached 865-342-6274. Follow him at http://twitter.com/Vols_Beat and http://blogs.knoxnews.com/ward.

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Comments » 18

orangevoltrain writes:

keep up the good work stay injury free we need you at football

Laydbakvol writes:

Just throw 'em high, Tyler.

mercuryvol writes:

I put this guy as the next great WR at UT.

HallowedHill writes:

Wow.

Go Vols!!!!

Voluvr writes:

Willie Gaultesk. We're as good as we've been for years at WR. WRU? I think so.

Vols7Twins writes:

Does this mean he could run from the half line jump at the three point line and dunk a basketball ?

BubbaJ writes:

Looks like a possible 2012 Olympian!

go_vols_go writes:

This guy is a very special player! I can not wait to see Tyler Bray and him light up the scoreboard the next couple years!

vol88 writes:

in response to mercuryvol:

I put this guy as the next great WR at UT.

Make room Willie, Alvin, Peerless...

FrostyVol writes:

Cant say enough about this kid. World class long jumper and football prodigy. The discipline and work ethic it takes is extraordinary. Great head on his shoulders. Justin is what is great about college athletics. Extremely proud to be affiliated with a school that has JH. We are UT!

SmokeyPride writes:

The sky is the limit for this kid...

Colliervol writes:

26 foot long jump. Not bad for "knocking off the rust".

copjon writes:

Tyler should start leading him an extra 7 yards and make him jump for it.

MusicCityVol writes:

Saban to Titans would be great for our future!

http://checkerboardchatter.blogspot.c...

VolUTeer writes:

I put Justin Hunter as the most important player on offense. Tyler just has to trow the ball in his area and he will go get it. He doesn't have to be that accurate. With his leaping ability and other worldly body control it makes him absolute on the football field. I could already see teams trying to double him last year because they know he's gonna be trouble for anybody who is matched up with him. Who they gonna get to play D on him? Jordan? Lebron? Kobe? Stay healthy JH and GBO!!! Can't wait til fall.

RollTideJoe writes:

in response to MusicCityVol:

Saban to Titans would be great for our future!

http://checkerboardchatter.blogspot.c...

Won't happen. Book it. Everytime a job opens, Alabama opponents start whistling the Saban song to take the job. Saban will finish his career in Tuscaloosa. He's getting everything he wants there and Terry, his wife, loves Tuscaloosa.

kyletrktr writes:

in response to RollTideJoe:

Won't happen. Book it. Everytime a job opens, Alabama opponents start whistling the Saban song to take the job. Saban will finish his career in Tuscaloosa. He's getting everything he wants there and Terry, his wife, loves Tuscaloosa.

I'm not sure this will go down either, but you are wrong about one thing- Terry hates Tuscaloosa, just like every other normal person in the world:-P no but really, she hates it.

TitanandVolfan4life writes:

About Nick Satan...He'll leave alaBummer after 1 or 2 more seasons but not to go to the NFL.

He's waiting for just the right job offer at just the right place that BOTH he and his wife will love to finish off his career and retire at.

He's also a egomaniac so he really wants to be the college coach that wins 3 National Championships at 3 different schools and set a record that will be almost impossible to match or break.

As to our great Vol about all you can say is 2 things...

1..WOW, what a great kid and...

2...Just don't get hurt because our football team needs you badly.

VFL...GO BIG ORANGE!!!

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