Hunter projects to be a big part of that future. Blessed with a 6-4 frame, deceptive speed and incredible jumping ability, he might be the Vols' brightest wideout prospect since Carl Pickens crossed the Smoky Mountains from Murphy, N.C., back in the late 1980s.
Just six games into his college career, Hunter already is drawing comparisons to Georgia junior A.J. Green. Hunter, who actually posted better numbers Saturday than his heralded Bulldog counterpart (4 catches for 110 yards compared to 6 catches for 96 yards), thinks the comparisons are valid.
"I see a lot of me in him," Hunter said, "especially the same size and same attributes and everything."
That quote may seem cocky in print but Hunter is not the arrogant type. In fact, he's so low-key and soft-spoken that reporters had to place their tape recorders mere inches from his chin just to pick up his post-game comments. That's OK, though. Vol head man Derek Dooley would much prefer that his players let their actions do their talking, and Justin Hunter certainly succeeds in that regard. He has made 10 receptions through the first six games and carries a team-best 23.6 yards-per-catch average.
Asked if his recent surge is the result of a greater comfort level with quarterback Matt Simms or a greater comfort level with the offense, Hunter shrugged.
"I think it's both things," he said. "Me and him are getting a connection started because we've been around each other for so long."
Actually, Hunter and Simms haven't worked together for very long at all. Whereas fellow freshman wideouts Da' Rick Rogers and Matt Milton were mid-term enrollees who participated in spring practice, Hunter joined the program just in time for preseason camp. What he has accomplished in the 10 weeks since then is pretty amazing. Even he seems pleasantly surprised.
"I think my confidence is building up higher and higher every week - me getting a lot more touches and a lot more time," he said. "It's real good."
Hunter's confidence may be "real good," but Tennessee's record isn't. The Vols stand 2-4 after losing 41-14 at Georgia.
"I wish I could've played better to help out the team," Hunter said. "It didn't go the way we wanted it to but I'm still excited, though."
Because he played for winning teams back at Ocean Lakes High in Virginia Beach, Hunter is not accustomed to losing. Still, he understands that growing pains are inevitable for this inexperienced Tennessee squad.
"I think we've got a young team," he said, "so we've got to build it up, get used to it."
Although the present is somewhat cloudy, Tennessee's future is bright thanks to the presence of a solid freshman class that has really bonded.
"I think so," Hunter said. "A lot of us played in the Under Armour All-America Game, so we got the chance to talk to each other and get used to us. It's a long road to come but I think we're going to be all right."
Several rookies made strong showings Saturday vs. Georgia. In addition to Hunter's 110-yard receiving performance, freshman tailback Rajion Neal had a 58-yard catch/run and freshman quarterback Tyler Bray completed 8 of 12 passes for 81 yards.
"I think he did real good," Hunter said of Bray. "He came in there and threw the ball around pretty good."
As noted earlier, Tennessee's lineup on its final possession vs. Georgia featured seven freshmen - Hunter, Bray, Neal, Da'Rick Rogers at receiver, plus James Stone, Ja'Wuan James and Zach Fulton in the offensive line. The rookies seem to have a great camaraderie.
"Yeah, we always pump each other up," Hunter said. "It's real exciting for us to see each other doing the things we're doing now."
It's even more exciting for the Vol Nation to imagine what these freshmen might be doing a year from now ... especially that rangy receiver with the low-key manner and the high-end potential.