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."