Justin Hunter focused on football during knee rehab

Justin Hunter talks about rehab on his injured knee

Every passing game day has been harder and harder for Tennessee wide receiver Justin Hunter to stomach.

Hunter's worst injury before he tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee was a dislocated thumb in high school, and he was able to play through that. This, however, has been an entirely different ordeal.

Even when he's not "knee-habbing" with a slew of trainers, watching practice or hanging out with his teammates, Hunter still finds himself immersed in football.

"I try to find other things to do, just try to play the game," Hunter said Tuesday. "If I can't play the game, I play the Xbox by myself sometimes just to try to get my stats up."

There was only one number Hunter had on his mind while he propped himself up on crutches before a horde of reporters after Tuesday's practice, his first interview since tearing up his knee Sept. 17, against at Florida. Asked when he expects to be fully recovered and ready to play football, Hunter had an exact date already prepared.

"Middle of March, around the 16th," Hunter said. "Or something like that."

The sight of Hunter on the sidelines at practice, games and even during a brief moment of ESPN's All-Access documentary that aired last month has been a common fixture since the injury. He's been in all of the wide receiver meetings and team meetings while balancing a hectic rehab schedule that features plenty of stretching, riding on a stationary bike, upper-body weight training and eating.

Hunter said the swelling in the quadriceps muscle above his knee isn't going down as fast as he'd prefer, but his overall rehabilitation is ahead of schedule.

"It's just basically getting my mobility back," Hunter said. "Trying to get straight and everything."

If his rehab continues to progress according to schedule, Hunter will be off the crutches by the end of the month.

"I hate 'em," Hunter said. "I've got to walk to classes on Tuesdays and Thursdays up the Hill. I try to get rides, call the T as much as I can. They're always late so I've got to walk anyway."

Hunter played in just two full games and four plays against Florida, but it was clear he was poised for a special sophomore season. The 314 receiving yards he compiled still rank in the top 15 among SEC receivers and the effect his presence on the field had on others, namely Da'Rick Rogers, has certainly been missed, as the Vols (3-5, 0-5 SEC) have struggled to replicate what they had in the passing game while he was healthy.

His fellow rehab buddy, quarterback Tyler Bray — who is out for at least two more weeks with a broken thumb — has helped provide some companionship on the sidelines, but it hasn't made watching the Vols struggle through a four-game losing streak any easier.

"It's real hard, just sitting on the sidelines and watching," Hunter said. "Sometimes I don't even want to go to the games because I know if I can't help them, it's not way my to do it. I just try to lift them up as best I can and help them out."

His teammates, who often stop to joke with him if he's hanging out by the Haslam Field gate after practice, have certainly appreciated it. So has coach Derek Dooley, who said he expects Hunter to come back an even better receiver than he was previously.

"The first thing I always say is 'How can you improve by not playing?' " Dooley said. "Well, he can improve with his weight-lifting and his physical strength and he can improve in the mental part of the game because there's never a time where you can't work on something to get better as a player.

"Every indication I'm getting is he's recovering well, he's staying around the team, he brings good energy around the guys. That's important."

Hunter said he's talked with coaches who have come back from similar injuries and also reached out to former UT player Eric Berry, who is currently out for the season with the Kansas City Chiefs because of a torn ACL. Though he's only been out for less than two months, he's also served as a source for advice, as safety Brent Brewer, who tore his ACL against South Carolina last Saturday, recently asked him how he felt when he woke up from the surgery.

"Sleepy and drowsy," Hunter said before quickly directing his focus from the past to the future.

"I really think I'll be coming back better than I was before. They really say that my leg will be stronger than it's ever been, so I'm just trying to push to get better.

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Comments » 21

jobrando#216494 writes:

He could not be much better but I hope he is. A playmaker equal to Berry.

Mtnbiker writes:

Get well Justin, we're all proud of your work so far. Have faith and stay positive. GBO!!

volsgirl writes:

Sure miss you....
Get well soon.......GO VOLS

VolGrad writes:

I hope they all come back from their injuries better than ever.

Go Vols!

tree_em_smokey writes:

Get well soon Justin. I've been missing seeing you dominate on the playing field. Love the attitude also! GBO!!!

MtJ_Orange writes:

It is a joy watching you play for the Big Orange. There's no doubt there's going to be some extremely nervous dbs next year. Get well Justin. Also I'm hoping for a #11 jersey from Santa this year!

tdvol1989 writes:

As someone who tore his own exactly 2 years ago, this type of injury blows. It is a different rehab for everyone. Some go better than expected and some go like mine (I cannot run without a severe limp and still have moderate pain with any kind of kneeling, jumping, or running.) I rehabbed with people that had surgery 2 or 3 weeks after me that passed me easily. I was told that mine was complicated due to the compact nature of my knee. Whatever.

So, I can really appreciate anyone that can come back full strength from that injury and I sure hope it happens for Justin. The key is getting pain-free mobility so you can rebuild the muscles that atrophy during the initial surgery and rehab. He is a special player and the best receiver we have had since Carl Pickens. If he can even participate in Spring at all, that would really help. That would give him almost 4 more months to get ready for fall camp and he will need that time to get confident in the knee.

VOLliven2it writes:

JH hang in there man and get back better and stronger. Sorry you have had this bump but you will be BACK and we will be glad to see you. GO BIG ORANGE!

HtownVol writes:

Just my opinion here but I am thinking that the UT Offense we have had a hard time watching for the past 3 weeks will be just a bad memory come September 2012.

Bray with Hunter,Rogers,Arnett and hopefully Bowles along with an complete returning O-Line (hopefully the 3rd time is the charm) and Imani Cross,Lane and Devrin Young and Rivera,Downs and maybe Clear.

(IF) Tennessee can stay healthy next season in the skill positions, even a Bama fan would have to admit that UT has the most explosive Offense in the SEC.

The Defense will be the difference. Are they able to play good. With the Offense the D will not have to be great, just good.

For that though UT will have to sign some D-Linemen and DBs that can play immediatly. And we will all really love to see Santos in Knoxville.

Injury to Bray or Hunter will of course really take a major part of the Offense away if it happens next season however there will be NO EXCUSE if the Offense in any way looks the way it does right now. That will be unacceptable in year 3 from Dooley.

Just looking ahead, it is nice to know that we will be a completely different Offense with the addition of just one player. That is good, but also bad.

GO VOLS

iowavol writes:

Looking forward to JH getting back. Coming back even better even better.

cyclonevol87 writes:

cant wait till u and bray are back get well soon!!

vols2#227315 writes:

Keep up the hard work and it will pay off.

The_Reverend writes:

Love this guy.

givehim6 writes:

in response to MtJ_Orange:

It is a joy watching you play for the Big Orange. There's no doubt there's going to be some extremely nervous dbs next year. Get well Justin. Also I'm hoping for a #11 jersey from Santa this year!

Got my #11 on as right now, Santa gave it to me last year. Had a gut filling the kid would be special last year. Just hope we get to keep him all next year, may be last year UT has him if he goes to the NFL early. Get healthy my friend.

GoSmokeyGo writes:

Great kid. We know we can score with him in line up..problem is we must get more depth on d line to hang with big boys...I believe these the coaches are aware and working hard to fix it!!! Go big Orange!

decades_vol (Inactive) writes:

JH, come back with an attitude! Come hungry! Tell opposing cornerbacks, "you can't guard me, better call for some help!" I'd like to see everybody else bring it hard as well. No more sand getting kicked in our faces. No more.

VolMan126 writes:

I will tell you guys I can not remember a season where we lost so many skill players to injury. Can you? If so tell me when...JH is the kind of kid that makes everyone on O better. I think that Devrin Young is also that kind of guy but we do not use him! I think the key to turning things around is Mckaffery..(sp)..This off season my be the most important one we have seen in many years. I like this guy and think he will make these guys bigger stronger and faster by next season. He done a great job over the last year. I listened to him talk on the coaches show sat, he sounds like he is on top of the latest techniques in training. Lets hope he stays with us a while! This is very hard to watch and we need something good to happen soon. Maybe the football gods will give us a break the rest of the way! GO VOLS!

tmcretired writes:

Get well soon we sure do miss you

Theo writes:

in response to tdvol1989:

As someone who tore his own exactly 2 years ago, this type of injury blows. It is a different rehab for everyone. Some go better than expected and some go like mine (I cannot run without a severe limp and still have moderate pain with any kind of kneeling, jumping, or running.) I rehabbed with people that had surgery 2 or 3 weeks after me that passed me easily. I was told that mine was complicated due to the compact nature of my knee. Whatever.

So, I can really appreciate anyone that can come back full strength from that injury and I sure hope it happens for Justin. The key is getting pain-free mobility so you can rebuild the muscles that atrophy during the initial surgery and rehab. He is a special player and the best receiver we have had since Carl Pickens. If he can even participate in Spring at all, that would really help. That would give him almost 4 more months to get ready for fall camp and he will need that time to get confident in the knee.

Not meant as an insult - but I imagine you are a little older than 19. Recovery is a little different for the "non-teenager" - just a thought:)

Navaloranges writes:

Great player, great person, GREAT VOL!!

redbullet writes:

Great Kid, Player and Vol! Come back stronger and faster, we won't be at the bottom of the SEC long!

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