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UT’s Kareem Hunt has matured

11/08/2016, 12:10am EST
By By BRIAN BUCKEY BLADE SPORTS WRITER

Senior nears school’s career rushing mark

UT’s Hunt has matured

Ever since University of Toledo senior running back Kareem Hunt stepped foot on campus he has produced for the Rockets.

Hunt’s unique mix of power, speed and vision has allowed him to move into second place on the all-time rushing list at the school. With his elite talent on display and all the success the game of football has thrown his way, his passion for the game never has wavered.

“One thing you really appreciate about Kareem is that when he was a young player, he always had a real genuine love for football and a love for practice and the spirit to compete,” UT coach Jason Candle said. “I think when guys go to practice every day and their mood doesn’t change and they have a smile on their face, you always know you can build off that moving forward. He’s never lost that love for football and that fire to compete. I really appreciate that from him and it has been fun to watch him grow.”

After a solid freshman season in which he rushed for 866 yards and six touchdowns in 12 games, Hunt’s breakout came in his sophomore season when he rushed 205 times for 1,631 yards and 16 touchdowns. He capped off his productive year with the best performance of his career in Toledo’s 63-44 win against Arkansas State in the GoDaddy Bowl, torching the Red Wolves for 271 yards and five touchdowns.

Hunt was suspended for the first two games of his junior season for a violation of team rules, then he missed two games with a hamstring injury. He still was able to gain 973 yards and score 12 touchdowns in just eight starts.

Hunt, from Willoughby South High School, said he has learned from his mistakes on and off the football field and has become a more complete player and a more mature person.

“I’ve grown in a lot of different ways,” Hunt said. “I’ve definitely grown on the football field by learning the game more and being able to read the defenses and being able to know where blitzes are coming from and all that. Pretty much I’ve matured a lot as a person and grown up. Just being immature sometimes, I just grew up. And I thank coach [Matt] Campbell and the whole coaching staff and all the people in Toledo for helping me.”

After last season, Hunt flirted with entering the NFL draft but decided to come back to Toledo to earn his degree in Criminal Justice and compete for a Mid-American Conference championship.

“My decision to come back, I knew we’d have a great coaching staff and I just wanted to get my diploma and finish out the school year,” Hunt said. “Then, I just knew I was going to be in great hands with coach Candle being the head coach and there was a lot of the staff and a lot of the players that I have a close relationships with and we all want that championship.”

Hunt is on pace to break the 1,000-yard mark again this season as he has 184 carries for 926 yards and six touchdowns, averaging 102.9 rushing yards per game. In the 48-17 win Nov. 2 at Akron, Hunt passed Wasean Tait to move into second place in all-time career rushing yards with 4,396. He needs 454 more yards to pass Chester Taylor for first place.

With four 100-yard rushing games this season, Hunt stands in second place in program history with 24 in his career. Spanning from 2013-15, Hunt had 12 consecutive 100-yard games, tying the top mark for UT.

This season, Hunt is part of a three-pronged rushing attack with junior Terry Swanson and senior Damion Jones-Moore. Redshirt freshman Art Thompkins also has contributed as a backup. Featuring four rushers with more than 200 rushing yards, the ground game has been effective all season as the Rockets are averaging 207.6 rushing yards an outing. Hunt has been on board since the start, even though he is sharing carries.

“That speaks volumes about him not being a selfish football player or teammate,” UT running backs coach Marquel Blackwell said, “because he could easily get 10 or 15 more carries. But he understands and he knows he will get his and will be put in the right situations.”

Blackwell, who is in his first season at UT, said he quickly noticed that Hunt has developed into a complete back.

“First, I think he has an unbelievable feel for the position,” Blackwell said. “He runs the ball with toughness and he can make every run. He’s an inside runner. He’s an outside runner. He catches the ball out of the backfield and he understands pass protection. He’s a three-down back and you don’t get a lot of that anymore.”

While Hunt is competing for carries with Swanson on the field, the two always are hanging out off the field and playing video games or grabbing a bite to eat.

“He’s meant a lot to me,” Swanson said. “He’s been a major piece in my growth and I think as a mentor he just looked out for me and made the transition from high school to college football a lot easier for me. He’s definitely a charismatic guy and he’s a good person and he takes good care of me.”

Hunt has continued to impress his coaches with his natural talent and the drive he has to improve every day.

“Kareem has done a great job of coming to practice each day and really having a good competitive spirit about him,” Candle said. “You mix that with already being a really talented player and you are usually going to get really good results. What he’s done and has been able to accomplish here at Toledo is outstanding. He’s still not finished, that is the scary thing. There’s still some way to go for him and it’s going to be awesome to see what he is in the future.”

ELLIS HONORED: Senior punter Nick Ellis was named MAC West Division special teams player of the week for his performance against the Zips. He averaged 43.5 yards per punt, including a long of 56.

Contact Brian Buckey at: bbuckey@theblade.com or 419-724-6110.

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Toledo senior running back Kareem Hunt needs just 454 yards to set the all-time career record at the school. It currently is owned by Chester Taylor, who played from 1998-2001, with 4,849 yards. BLADE PHOTO


Former Toledo running back Chester Taylor holds the career rushing record at the school of 4,396 yards. BLADE PHOTO

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