Snubbed by UT, this Tiger is pumped

Most college athletes don't start thinking about setting school records until they are well into their third or fourth years of competition. Aaron Hunt had an inkling he could reach such a milestone after his freshman year.

The Clemson kicker, a former Oak Ridge High standout overlooked by Tennessee, figured he had a decent shot to become the school's all-time leading scorer after producing 70 points in a commendable first-year performance.

The goal became reality several weeks ago when the Tigers upset Florida State. Hunt connected on 4 of 4 field goals and was good on two extra-point tries to break Nelson Welch's old record of 301 points set in 1994. Heading into the Peach Bowl against Tennessee, Hunt has 320 points.

''I felt I had a chance after my first year,'' Hunt said. ''I had 70 points coming into the year. I felt if I picked it up a little bit I had a shot at it. It's a great accomplishment. I am super proud of it.''

The record came on a glorious day for the Tigers, who hadn't defeated Florida State since 1989. The win helped save the job of Clemson coach Tommy Bowden and provided the Tigers a much-needed lift late in the season.

''It was a big deal for us,'' Hunt said. ''I had four field goals and we beat FSU and I became the all-time leading scorer. We had been playing FSU tough the last couple of years, so we thought we could do it. It was an unreal feeling.''

The record was probably the last thing on Hunt's mind after the first few games of this season. Various problems led to a poor start in the field goal department.

But Hunt rebounded well, hitting on 13 of 14 attempts after the slow start.

''I started the season terrible,'' he said. ''I was 3 of 8 on field goals. I don't know what it was exactly. I went through a lot with different snappers and holders. It was a merry-go-round for a while. Plus, some of them were long kicks. But we got it worked out and I am confident now.''

Though he didn't get a chance to display his talents until his senior year in high school, Hunt became a standout for the Wildcats. In 1999, he earned all-state honors. He made 10 of 16 field goals that year and connected on a school-record 52-yarder. He also converted 41 extra points that season. Even so, Hunt said he received only passing interest from the Vols.

''They didnít recruit me heavily,'' he said. ''I was invited to some games, but they never offered me. I had to look elsewhere.

''I grew up a Tennessee fan. I was born in Tennessee, and my heart is there. But Clemson has been a great opportunity for me.''

With only one year of high school experience on his resume', Hunt had to market himself. Clemson took a chance and hasn't regretted it.

''They were the biggest team that offered me,'' he said. ''I had to make some tapes of myself kicking because there was an all-state kicker in front of me for three years. I just played on the JV for those years.''

The highlights were numerous for Hunt in his initial season with Clemson. He was named the ABC/Chevrolet Player of the Game after hitting a 25-yard field goal with three seconds left to lift the Tigers over South Carolina. He also had a season-high three field goals in that game.

Hunt connected on two more field goals in the Gator Bowl against Virginia Tech.

For the year, Hunt made 8 of 9 field goals inside 30 yards and was good on 45 of 47 extra points, breaking Obed Ariri's school single-season record for extra points.

As a sophomore, Hunt made 12 of 14 field goals and 44 of 45 extra points. He had five field goals of more than 40 yards. His longest of the year covered 48 yards.

In 2002, Hunt ranked second in the ACC and 18th nationally in field goals per game, hitting on 17 of 22 attempts for the year. He was the only ACC kicker to connect on four field goals in a game, doing so against Louisiana Tech and Maryland.

''I'd say my sophomore year was my best year,'' Hunt said.

Clemson appears to be on a roll entering the Peach Bowl, having defeated its final three opponents by a combined margin of 129-34. The Tigers posted wins over Florida State (26-10), Duke (40-7) and South Carolina (63-17).

Clemson hopes the late-season success carries over to the Peach Bowl, a game that many observers feel means more to the Tigers than to the Vols, who feel they were snubbed by more prestigious bowls.

''I'm impressed by what the team was able to do (late in the year),'' Hunt said. ''We're all happy about it. The senior class got together and told the guys that it is now or never.

''I never thought we'd get a chance to play Tennessee, but I am thrilled about it. I think it will be a great game. I think we match up well with them.''

In what he believes could be a close game, Hunt said he wouldn't be surprised if the outcome comes down to a field goal try.

''It's possible,'' he said. ''You have to prepare for every game like it will come down to that.''

Hunt knows the pro-Tennessee crowd from Oak Ridge and the surrounding Knoxville area will be cheering for the Vols, but he said he has plenty of well wishers on his side.

''I was home around Thanksgiving,'' he said. ''I was hanging out and we talked some smack back and forth, but they wish me the best. There are a lot of diehard UT fans, but they want to see me do well.''


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