Hunter Couldn't Lose

For the second time as head coach for Buford High School (Ga.), Jeff Simpson is sending his star player to Notre Dame. The first player was running back Darius Walker, and just yesterday his standout defensive tackle, Omar Hunter named Notre Dame his future home.

Although coach Simpson saw Darius Walker become a star at Notre Dame, and he made a trip to Notre Dame with Omar Hunter, he didn't have a dog in the race when it came to Omar's college decision.

"[Darius] was a big part of our program," Simpson said of the former Notre Dame star. "We followed his career and we certainly watched him grow up at Notre Dame. We work weekends, so you miss a lot. I didn't get a chance to go, but some of our coaches had a chance to go up to the Georgia Tech game last year.

"As far as Omar, I didn't care where he went, I just want what is best for him. My alma mater, Auburn, was in his top five and when it came down to where he wanted to go, they weren't even a consideration. He's the one that has to walk in those shoes for the next four or five years, so I don't want to get involved in the process in terms of where he's going to go to school. He was comfortable with his decision to pick Notre Dame and his parents were excited about his decision.

"Notre Dame did it with class and they did a great job of recruiting the kid…so did Michigan," coach Simpson said "I don't remember anything negative coming from either side. The people were so impressive at both places. They were both class acts. I think the best way to put it is that Omar picked Notre Dame, he didn't say no to Michigan. His parents or even I would have been very pleased if he had gone to either place.

"Notre Dame got involved with Omar pretty heavily in the winter and in the spring. He was very interested from the get-go, but I think when he went up for the visit is when it hit that Notre Dame could be the place for him. He spent some time with the players. He was awestruck by the type of kids they have in the program. Their character and everything comes with that. He was just really impressed by the kids.

"Coach Bill Lewis and coach Corwin Brown really did a great job of selling him on why Notre Dame would be a great fit," Simpson explained. "Charlie Weis was really personable with him. Omar felt comfortable with him and the direction the program was headed.

"The academics folks made him feel that he'd be in a smaller environment that is similar to what he's grown up in. I think he felt that academically, that could be really advantageous for him.

"There are so many other factors, like the Notre Dame mystique, the tradition and history," coach Simpson said. "I don't think you can see all of that and not be interested in going to school there. So it was the combination of all those factors that added up for him and that's why he felt that he wanted to play his college ball there and that's where he wanted to call home the next four years."

Coach Simpson was impressed with both Michigan and Notre Dame during their visits. According to Simpson, both schools are very similar, which may be why they were the final two under consideration.

"It really is amazing the amount of support, the environment and the amount of care those schools have for kids that grow up in their programs," Simpson said of Michigan and Notre Dame. "Again, it wasn't Omar saying, ‘no' to Michigan and ‘yes' to Notre Dame. There wasn't any one factor that swayed him one way or the other. When you go down and compare your list, you compare coaches, facilities, academic support, academic advisors and all of that. In the end there really isn't a big difference between Notre Dame and Michigan. They're both elite programs and elite academic schools. They have elite processes in place to make sure that kids are successful. It isn't any one thing that a coach said or didn't say. It wasn't a promise to play or how soon you got to play as a freshman. It was really about him feeling more comfortable at one place than the other. He was in a win-win situation. He could have gone to either school and I'm sure it would have worked out great for him either way."

The Notre Dame coaching staff has to be excited about the prospect of Hunter working into the rotation along the defensive front. Simpson has watched him grow up and he's believes that Hunter is a special player and a special person.

"When he was in middle school he was a standout," Simpson said of Hunter. "He was actually a running back. He was always a big kid that was a great athlete. He's just a good kid and a humble kid, you always knew that he was going to be something special He has a great smile and a great personality. He probably isn't overly verbal. He isn't the Warren Sapp type in the locker room, but he's a fun loving guy that everyone on the team loves. He treats everyone on the team the same and everyone cares about him.

"He's a guy that is an extremely explosive athlete. He can dunk a basketball. He can clean 320 pounds. He's just very explosive. He runs very well. He has long arms. He changes directions very well. He can get very low when he plays, so he wins just by being very low in his stance. Not many high school centers can block him one-on-one, so he gets double-teamed. If you're drawing double-teams and getting some push up the middle, you're creating a lot of havoc and freeing up the linebackers to make lot of plays. He does a lot of great things, and he makes plays in his own right as well.

"I think that's what got all these [3-4] front teams excited when they recruited him," Simpson said. "He's the guy that you want in the middle, and he's got the speed that makes you have to deal with him with two blockers. I think he'll excel [in the ‘3-4'] to be honest with you. He could play in any defense though.

"If you can get a single [blocker] on him he can definitely get off and create some pressure on the quarterback. He definitely has the bull rush, he has a nice speed rush and a counter move. He definitely is athletic enough to spin and do all that, but it all starts with great get-off and being a power rusher. He can do that and then he can create off of that."

Coach Simpson will get chance to watch Omar grow into a man at Notre Dame, and Simpson probably couldn't find a better coach to watch over his player than Notre Dame secondary coach Bill Lewis.

"I knew of coach Lewis when he was down here coaching with Georgia," Coach Simpson explained. "He might be one of the classiest men that I've ever met. His demeanor, the way he handles himself, the way he goes about his work, the way he treats kids… he is first-class. I have a tremendous amount of respect for him. He's just such a professional. I can't imagine coach Weis getting anybody better than him for what he does and what he brings to that staff. The kids just know that he has the wisdom and the experience where he can help them on the field or in life. They just know that he has the skills that can make them better.

"I think Omar just felt like some of the things at Notre Dame fit him the best. Some of the people there made him feel very comfortable. It was a good fit for him and it's going to allow him to grow as a person. When you have a 17-year old kid sitting there telling you something is important to him, you have to listen to what he says and understand why it's important to him. Who's to say that he's right or wrong, but I just know that he couldn't have made a bad decision."


IrishIllustrated.com Top Stories