Recruiting Profile: Will Hunt
by Will Stewart
TSL Extra, Issue #3

Last year's national championship Sugar Bowl game between Virginia Tech and Florida State caused quite a stir in Springdale, Arkansas. The city of approximately 45,000 residents had a lot to talk about the next day.

That's nothing new or unusual, of course. Michael Vick's wizardry that night led to a lot of water cooler talk around the entire country. But in Springdale, things were a little different.

Those who follow Springdale High's football team went through a collective episode of déjà vu that night. See, they were used to watching their own #7, a 6-foot-2, 205 pound quarterback named Will Hunt, avoid tacklers with scrambling moves and then improvise a great play.

Hunt, who verbally committed to Virginia Tech last September, wasn't familiar with the Hokies when he saw Michael Vick pull his Sugar Bowl magic act.

"The first time I ever saw Virginia Tech play was in the championship game last year," Hunt said in a recent phone interview with the TSL Extra. "My mom came running in, and she said, 'You've got to watch this guy play, Michael Vick. He plays just like you!'"

Hunt had just finished his junior season, his first year starting at quarterback for the Springdale High Bulldogs. And by passing for 1267 yards and running for another 816, and generally playing as if he had eyes in the back of his head, Hunt had already made a name for himself in Northwest Arkansas, playing in the toughest conference in the state.

And just a few weeks after the end of Hunt's junior season, the Hunt family sat transfixed to their TV, watching Michael Vick duck and dodge Florida State defenders. And they found out the next day that they weren't alone.

"After that game," says Hunt's mother, the bubbly, loquacious Barbara (nicknamed BeeGee), "five or six people from around town called me and said, 'We saw Will on TV last night.' After the Sugar Bowl, people on the street or in the grocery store would tell me the same thing."

The Hunts like to tell the story, but the truth is, they are uncomfortable with such talk. "I don't compare to him (Vick) at all," Will Hunt says, not the least big eager to draw similarities between himself and the former Hokie quarterback. But no matter how they try to avoid the inevitable comparisons to Michael Vick, the fact is that Vick's shadow will loom large over Virginia Tech's next quarterback. It is unavoidable.

It's one thing to have loving friends and family make the comparison. So I asked Springdale High Coach Jarrell Williams, a legend in Arkansas high school football who is retiring after 36 seasons as a head coach, to describe his most recent -- and last -- starting quarterback.

"Will's greatest asset is he's got tremendous peripheral vision," Williams says. "He can elude tacklers, especially rushers, and come up with a big pass or run out of it. That's what makes him so unique."

"My strong suit is my ability to scramble and make something out of a play," Hunt says. "It puts pressure on the defensive back, not knowing if he should come up and watch for the run, or stay with his receiver."

And he can take the heat, too. "He was the baby of four," BeeGee Hunt says of her son, "and he had two older brothers, so he's tough. Will is tough. He had to be tough, because the two older boys, with their friends, they would throw him around, they would wrestle with him, and he had to learn to take up for himself. And honey, he can. He's tough."

Hmm, she used the word "tough" four times in one paragraph. How about one more, this one from Coach Williams. "He really loves competition," Coach Williams says. "When the going gets tough, he gets going."

The going got tough plenty of times for Hunt over the course of the two seasons that he started for Springdale. Springdale plays in the 5-A West Conference, the most competitive conference in Arkansas, and doesn't duck any teams out of conference either. Hunt's junior year, Springdale played Shreveport's Evangel High School (when they featured Florida QB recruit Brock Berlin and were ranked #1 in the country -- Springdale lost 41-28), and this year, they played Shiloh Christian of Springdale to a 7-7 tie when Shiloh was ranked #11 in the country by ESPN.

In 1998, the year before Hunt hit the field, the Bulldogs finished second in the 5-A West, and many of the players on that team graduated. They weren't expected to even make the playoffs in 1999, but with Hunt at the helm, Springdale finished second in the state in 1999 and third in the state in 2000.

In his two years as a starter, Hunt was 147-339 (43.3%) passing for 2,430 yards, 20 TD's, and 12 INT's. He ran for 1,568 yards and scored 21 touchdowns on the ground. His junior and senior years were almost equal statistically, but his passing production was down a little bit as a senior. "We had a much more balanced offense this year with better runners," Hunt explained. "We had a running back who was the top rusher in the conference, and I was up there, plus we had a good fullback."

Not to mention that Hunt wasn't completely healthy. "He had some shoulder problems during the season," Williams says, "and he always had to have it worked on before practice and games, so that kind of hampered him a little bit." Not only that, but Springdale's top receiver was injured in the first game of the season and didn't play again, and that affected Springdale's limited passing game. Against Shiloh, for example, in the 7-7 tie, Hunt had two passes dropped in the end zone and another TD pass called back on a penalty.

Hunt is generally regarded as the top quarterback prospect in the state of Arkansas, and as a senior he was named All-State at quarterback. Two newspapers in Northwest Arkansas named him the Player of the Year in the state as a senior.

So he's fast (4.54 forty, a number which will no doubt improve at Virginia Tech), elusive, tough, a winner, and he loves to compete. What's the downside?

"I would say that my passing needs work," Hunt says. "We didn't pass much, maybe nine or ten times a game, but I’m sure I'll get work after I get to Tech. I've got a pretty strong arm. I can get the ball where it needs to go."

Williams agrees. "He's got good arm strength." With a great tailback and fullback on the roster, plus Hunt's running ability (he was Springdale's top rusher as a junior), "We didn't throw the ball all that much, and consequently, he probably didn't get to work on throwing as much as he did if he went somewhere where they threw all the time. But as far as throwing the football, he's got a very accurate arm and reads defenses good. He'll get better in that area.

"I think in college," Williams continues, "he'll certainly be successful. He needs to push himself a little bit more to make himself a great player -- I think when he gets to college and faces better competition, that'll happen -- but he is a good football player.

"I think he tries to lead by example more than anything. He's not a rah-rah guy or anything like that. He plays with a lot of intensity. Very intelligent, very sharp kid, and he catches on real well. He's a student of the game, and he loves football."

Hunt, who says that he runs the option well ("It took a few games into my junior year to get the hang of it, but once I got it down, it just comes naturally to me"), seems to be a perfect fit for the Virginia Tech offense.

So how in the world did an Arkansas boy wind up committing to Virginia Tech, especially when he lives just ten minutes from the University of Arkansas campus?

The Road to VT

"We have family in Virginia," says BeeGee. "My mother grew up in Portsmouth and met my father during World War II. He was stationed in Norfolk. They got married, and after the war, she moved with him to Pine Bluff, Arkansas, and that's where I was born. I went to college at the University of Arkansas.

"My mom died a year ago, and she never forgot her Virginia roots. She was from Tidewater, and she never lost her accent, even after living in Arkansas 50 years. We would always go back and visit every summer for a month, and I still have cousins and very good friends that live in Portsmouth. So we have deep Virginia roots."

But that wasn't the main reason that Will Hunt wound up being interested in Virginia Tech. As he said, he hadn't really watched them until the Sugar Bowl game against Florida State. But after a successful junior year, one in which he led his team in rushing and passing and took them all the way to the state championship game, he knew he could play quarterback at the Division 1-A level.

He didn't wait for the schools to come to him, though. He signed up with a recruiting service, who in exchange for a fee, will post a prospect's statistics on the Internet and will mail stats and tapes to 20 teams of the prospect's choice. Hunt's brother, who wants to be a movie director, put the tape together for him. "He shot on the ground every game, and he had one of his friends on the other sideline. Then we had the coach's up-top view, so we had a lot of different views of games," Hunt says.

In addition to nearby Arkansas, Nebraska, Tulsa, and Rice, Hunt was interested in the Hokies. "I got interested in them (after the Sugar Bowl). I sent a highlight tape to Virginia Tech, and everything got rolling after that."

Tech offensive coordinator Rickey Bustle liked what he saw in the scrambling QB, and he very quickly got in touch with Hunt and indicated Virginia Tech's interest. The Hokies offered a scholarship to Hunt early, and in mid-September, just as other schools were starting to ramp up their interest in him, Hunt committed to Tech.

So who was in the mix? "Probably Nebraska and Virginia Tech were my top two," Hunt says. "I live five minutes from Arkansas, so they were definitely the favorite at first. But they didn't show too much interest in me, so I kind of lost interest in them."

More accurately, Arkansas did not show interest in Hunt as a quarterback. Nebraska did, but they backed off when he committed to Tech (the Cornhuskers never offered Hunt a scholarship). Stanford's quarterback coach wanted to fly to Arkansas to see him, but when Hunt told him he had committed to Virginia Tech, that trip was quickly canceled.

And he has never wavered. "I just think their style of play suits me best," he says of the Hokies.

"Competition Makes Everybody Better"

Since Hunt committed to Virginia Tech on September 19th, the landscape of VT football has changed dramatically. Mainly, Michael Vick has thrown his name in the ring for the NFL draft.

Hunt is one of a handful of quarterback prospects that now finds his schedule for competing for the starting job at Virginia Tech has unexpectedly been moved up one year. In addition to current quarterbacks Grant Noel and Jason Davis, the Hokies will reportedly try freshman DB Eric Green and redshirt freshman wide receiver Richard Johnson at quarterback in the spring.

In addition to Hunt, the Hokies have a verbal commitment from quarterback Bryan Randall, the #1 prospect in the state of Virginia, and things look good for the Hokies to land a commitment from quarterback Michael Robinson out of Varina High School near Richmond.

Playing a true freshman quarterback is not Frank Beamer's cup of tea, but it's not out of the realm of possibility for all of the incoming true freshmen to get a chance at the starting job in the wake of Vick's departure.

All told, that's no less than seven players who might get a run at the position.

Like Randall, Hunt had hoped to redshirt a year and prep for the college game. But now he knows he may have to be ready this fall to give it a run, so to speak.

"I kind of have mixed feelings about Vick's early departure," Hunt says. "I was hoping to be able to learn under him for a year and then challenge for the starting job when he left, but Coach Bustle called and told my mom that Vick was leaving and told me to get ready. So I get the feeling that there is going to be a competition for the starting job, and I might be right in the middle of least I hope I am. I feel if I am given an opportunity to battle for the starting job that I will be very mentally alert and ready to try and win it."

What about the prospect not only of competing against all the players already on the team, but of going up against highly regarded home state recruits like Randall and Robinson? Hunt's answer is textbook: "Competition makes everybody better, and it makes the team better. If there are three or four of us fighting for the spot, and I get beat out, then I get beat out. That's the way it goes. That's all part of football."

Coach Williams of Springdale is frank about the prospect of his quarterback competing for the starting job at Tech next fall. "I think he needs a year. I think everybody needs a year. Back when I played, they had the freshman team, and we couldn’t play varsity, and I'd like to see that back again, because the transition from high school to college, primarily because of the speed of the game, is hard. I think he'll need a year to adjust to the speed of the game and the size of the players."

And if the quarterback battle shakes out and he not a part of the picture at QB, Hunt is ready to change positions if asked. "I love the game of football and I just want to play. Whatever it takes to help the team out."

In that case, Hunt's most likely destination would be safety, the position Arkansas recruited him for briefly.

The Right Tools for the Job

Whatever his destiny, Hunt is not likely to struggle academically or feel homesick so far away from Springdale. He's an excellent student with a 3.97 GPA and a 22 on the ACT, easily making him a qualifier, and in fact, he has already been accepted at Virginia Tech under the early admissions program. He is taking two college courses this year, and Bustle has checked with the academic advisors at Virginia Tech and verifies that they'll transfer for credit to Tech. Hunt hasn’t picked a major yet but thinks it will be something in the Business school.

As for getting lonely or homesick, BeeGee says, "Will never meets a stranger. He's very easy to talk to. He's a good kid. Maybe because of all those people being around (having three siblings), he just never meets a stranger."

But before he enters Virginia Tech next fall, there is one thing that Will Hunt needs to improve upon. His racquetball game.

"I've got to get ready," he says, "because I understand Coach Bustle likes to play."

Good luck to Coach Bustle on that, because it'll be hard for him to beat the scrambling QB from Arkansas with eyes in the back of his head.


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