A Man In Balance

Just a few moments' conversation with defensive lineman Ernest Hunter reveals a thoughtful, intelligent person behind the rough and tumble persona tht he displays on the football field.

Hunter, who hails from Burke, Va., doesn't respond to questions with platitudes or cliches. He takes time tho think about the question before formulating a response, and the answers he provides reveal a bright, well-rounded outlook on the part of the big junior.

That trait stands in stark contrast to the persona displayed by many defensive linemen, but it fits Hunter, a communications major who obviously takes pride in speaking well and sharing his thoughts.

"Big" of course, is a relative term when discussing linemen, but for Hunter, the word fits now more than ever. The dedicated defender put on about 25 pounds during the offseason, much of it in his lower body. That added mass should help Hunter as he battles 300+ pound offensive linemen from his defensive tackle position.

"It's a transition," Hunter said of the differences in playing at his new weight of 290 pounds. "I'm not exactly used to it yet, but I'm getting better as the days go by. I kind of like it, not being leaned on and pushed around by bigger guys. That makes playing my position a little bit easier."

While the added size figures to help on the physical side, Hunter doesn't think it has made a difference in the way he feels while playing the game. Asked if the offseason gains would help him from a confidence standpoint, the forthright Hunter says, "Not really."

"I see it as an extra weapon, but I have always had confidence in myself. Even if I weighed 200 pounds, if this was the position I am supposed to play, then I'm going to give it all I've got and do the best I can. I see it as one more advantage or tool that can assist me in doing what I can for the team."

Hunter has done plenty of that already in his Mountaineer career. Last season, he racked up 43 tackles and three sacks after recovering from a broken leg that sidelined him for more than half of the 2002 season, and proved himself to be a stalwart on the undersized defensive line. This year, that size disadvantage will shrink, and many observers are expecting Hunter to put up even more impressive numbers.

Don't get the idea that Hunter is satisfied with his progress to date, however. As befits his thoughtful demeanor, he has identified areas for potential improvement, and is working on them diligently.

"I think my biggest problem was thinking too much," said the pensive giant of his career to date. "I'm thinking less now and trying to play more instinctively, whether it's in practice or a game. I'm trying to react more and be more of an athlete. I want to get after it and be more aggressive. Last year I was sort of passive at times, and I want to improve that."

An even more aggressive Hunter might be a scary thought for opposing offensive linemen, but with his love for contact and the physical side of football, it stands to reason that he should be able to meet his goals to be more aggressive on the field.

"When it comes down to it, when you're not wearing pads, it's hard for the linemen to do much of anything," Hunter said of practice sessions that don't feature hitting. "You have that desire to go out and hit someone, but you can't do that because you don't want to hurt them or hurt yourself. When we put the pads on, that's [the linemen's] time to get after each other and see what we are made of."

The coaching staff obviously couldn't wait to see either, as they put the team through "Oklahoma" drills early in the first practice that allowed full contact last week. Hunter chuckled as he recalled that session.

"That's the sort of thing that I love about football," Hunter said in his measured tone that belies his love for the violence of the game. "It's just the raw, one-on-one battle to see who comes out on top."

More often than not, that person figures to be this player with two sides - soft-spoken and analytical off the field, and an aggressive playmaker on it.

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