If all goes according to plan, Torii Hunter Jr. will be back for Michigan State.
Wednesday the senior receiver spoke to reporters for the first time since the DeShon Elliott hit that knocked him unconscious and left Hunter concussed in the third quarter at Texas. No flag was thrown for the helmet-to-helmet hit by the ACC crew on the field, nor did the Big 12 replay official review the play upstairs despite Hunter laying on the field for minutes after impact.
Hunter did not return to the game and sat out last weekend’s home opener against Nevada. He said he passed all concussion protocols Sunday, practiced without contact yesterday and plans to practice in full today.
“Today I’ll try to push myself a little bit more,” Hunter said. “I wanted to play (last week), but mentally I wouldn’t want to take the risk of not being ready to play. Everybody agreed that it would be best for me not to play just to be sure.”
Hunter said he exchanged messages on Twitter with Elliott, who apologized for the hit and said he didn’t mean to target him. Hunter has moved beyond the concussion enough to have a sense of humor about it.
“I jokingly said, ‘Oh, so you did target?’” Hunter said. “I was like, ‘No, I’m kidding. You were just trying to make a play like I was.’”
Irish quarterbacks threw at Hunter six times at Texas, completing four passes for 37 yards and a touchdown. Without Hunter but against a Mountain West opponent last week, Irish receivers didn’t miss a beat as DeShone Kizer finished 15-of-18 for 156 yards and two touchdowns, including a career-first by Kevin Stepherson.
Corey Holmes, Chris Finke and Chase Claypool all made their first career catches against the Wolf Pack.
Hunter said he attacked the return from concussion similarly to his comeback from that broken leg at the U.S. Army All-American Bowl, which forced a freshman year red-shirt. But unlike that injury, a blow to the brain took a different kind of discipline during the past 10 days.
Hunter spent time in dark rooms to help his brain heal and limited time watching television or even using his phone. He said his family came to South Bend to help in the recovery. Having Corey Robinson, who retired from football after multiple concussions, helped too.
Hunter said this concussion was his first, although he admitted it may simply have been the first made aware to the Irish training staff.
“Scary experience,” Hunter said. “I’m feeling a lot better. I’m feeling like myself again. Last week I kind of felt out of it, felt slow, felt sluggish.”
During Tuesday’s practice, Hunter said he took 1-on-1, 7-on-7 and 11-on-11 reps, all part of Notre Dame’s standard midweek routine. That will be much the same Wednesday, although it’s not clear if that work will include contact or if Hunter will be in a red jersey.
Regardless, if Hunter makes it through today without showing side effects, he should be good for Michigan State.
“I’m fairly confident,” Hunter said. “I did everything they would allow me to do. I went out there and did as much as I could and was smart about going to the ground, blocking plays, stuff like that.
“I’m confident that I’ll be ready come Saturday.”