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Friday, August 12, 2022

Redshirt freshman Hunter prepares for expanded role after disappointing year

A little less than a year ago, Urban Meyer said it would be hard to keep incoming freshman defensive tackle Omar Hunter off the field. Meyer could have shoved all of Hunter's 308 pounds out there with the first team defense when he arrived in Gainesville. And he wasn't bashful about praising Hunter's abilities, calling him the Tim Tebow of last year's recruiting class.

When Hunter first hit the practice field, the blogs started up and the message boards oozed in anticipation.

He was considered one of the biggest - if not the biggest - prize of the 2008 recruiting class, and for good reason. Hunter was the No. 2-rated defensive lineman by and Unlike previous underachievers at defensive tackle, Hunter looked like one of those rare freshmen who would start as soon as they could find his jersey size.

Hunter's back and ankle had other ideas. The freshman was constantly injured, and as Lawrence Marsh and Terron Sanders stepped up to grab the starting tackle positions, Hunter and his potential became distant memories for fans.

In what would have been a shocker for Meyer and his staff when they signed him, Hunter redshirted last season after playing in just three games.

"It was a rough first year," Hunter said. "A lot of things set me back."

Now, after being on campus for almost a year, Hunter is getting his chance to rise up the depth chart and back into prominence.

"It's time," defensive line coach Dan McCarney said. "He's been here since May, almost a year. It's time."

Hunter's playing chances have improved since tackles Torrey Davis and John Brown left UF's program a little more than two weeks ago.

Still, for a former five-star recruit who was praised on nearly every down for the first 18 years of his life, having to compete for playing time is unknown territory.

"I've learned those stars that don't mean nothing. Absolutely nothing," Hunter said. "When you get here, everyone's on an even playing field. Everyone's just as big as you. Just as fast as you. Just as strong as you."

In other words, it was time for Hunter to man up.

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"It's definitely different," Hunter said. "I'm willing to earn my stripes. Whatever I have to do. If I have to play the backup role until Marsh is gone, that's what I'm going to do."

That competitive attitude is exactly what Meyer has grown to love about his program now. A few years ago, a healthy Hunter could have been guaranteed multiple snaps a game. Not anymore.

"There's no free lunches around here," McCarney said.

For Hunter, it didn't even seem like a healthy body came free of charge. Hunter called part of the season "depressing" and said that "there were times when I really wanted to quit.

"I felt like I couldn't do anything right," Hunter said.

Then strength coach Mickey Marotti talked to Hunter, and the redshirt freshman realized there's still much he can accomplish. Even though he had such high expectations coming in, Hunter was still just a freshman with potentially a career's worth of playing time ahead of him.

"He's a better player," McCarney said. "He needs to be in the rotation, and it's up to him to do that."

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