Bowl practices matter, just ask Andre Hunt.
Without the three weeks of buildup to the Pinstripe Bowl, Hunt never debuts at safety against Navy. He never makes the game-winning sack, and remains buried on the depth chart as a walk-on wide receiver.
Head coach Kyle Flood moved Hunt from receiver to safety for bowl practices last year, which gave him an extra practice session for the transition.
“It was a lot to take in,” Hunt said. “They threw me in right away and then [graduate assistant] Sam Williams told me what to do. I came in after practice to get more of a general sense of everything and settle in. It was nerve-wracking playing a position I’ve never played before, but the bowl practices helped me a lot.”
Bowl practices are different this year.
Hunt and the rest of the Scarlet Knights return to the practice field next week. For Hunt, it is his first pitch for a starting job in the spring with starters Johnathan Aiken and Lorenzo Waters graduating.
“I kind of think about it, just pondering where I will be and how I can help,” Hunt said. “Whatever it is – strong, free – I’ll be ready. I just want to contribute. I want to be better. I’m excited for the chance to improve even more with these extra practices.”
The worked paid off for Hunt, who debuted against Navy after an injury to free safety Delon Stephenson.
Hunt sacked quarterback Keenan Reynolds on a key third down, and left Annapolis as one of the late-game heroes of a 31-24 victory.
“It was a big moment,” Hunt said. “It was my dream to play college football, and I just thought about how much work it took for me to get there with my ACL injury and going to prep school. It was a really emotional moment to just step on the field and come out with a win like that, especially with me making a big play. I couldn’t write it better.”
Hunt played in eight games for Rutgers in 2014, including one start. The red-shirt freshman safety brought versatility to his role with help on special teams.
His role defensively included work at strong safety by the end of the season. Waters battled lower body injuries heading into Maryland, which put Hunt in the mix at both safety spots.
“I’ve barely played any of that, but there’s no better time to learn,” Hunt said. “The concepts are pretty similar, so I just have to focus and prepare to the best of my ability.”
Learning as much from Waters and Aiken before graduation is the primary focus for Hunt.
“Lorenzo is always there to help,” Hunt said. “If I have a question about anything, he’s always watching. He’ll come up and tell me what I can do better, or to line up here. I’ve just got to just be there to ask him questions.
“I really did not expect this season to go the way it did. I’m glad it did, obviously. I’m just thankful for how this went, and I can’t wait to finish it the right way.”