After exploring the murky future of quarterback Malik Zaire, UHND continues its annual “Now or Never” series with Torii Hunter Jr., a wide receiver Notre Dame is hopeful will become the next star pass catcher for the Irish.
The son of retired MLB star Torii Hunter, Hunter Jr. had the bloodlines of a great athlete despite his status as an unheralded 3-star recruit from Prosper, Tex., that failed to crack Rivals.com’s original list of national recruits. Despite his under-the-radar status Notre Dame recruited the Texas product hard, a move that would play the biggest role in Hunter’s eventual decision to play his Saturdays in South Bend.
Hunter’s profile began to explode after capturing MVP honors at Nike’s The Opening, one of the nation’s premier events for the best high school players in America. Scholarship offers began pouring in from the likes of Oklahoma and Nebraska, and his eye-opening performance even managed to bump him to 4-star status. But the early relationships built with head coach Brian Kelly’s staff cemented Notre Dame into the driver’s seat for his signature.
Reason for Optimism
While only recording 28 receptions for 363 yards last fall, late in the season Hunter began to demonstrate the ability Notre Dame fans were excited about after his strong performance at The Opening, including an incredible one-handed catch against the Ohio State Buckeyes in the Fiesta Bowl. But the biggest reason for optimism is the versatility he brings to the wide receiver position.
Torii was recruited to Notre Dame to play the slot position, or the Z in Brian Kelly’s offense, a spot he shared with Amir Carlisle in 2015. Given his elite-level of athleticism, however – after all, there’s a reason he’s a two-sport athlete at Notre Dame – Hunter has the ability to play outside at the X position, the home for star wideout Will Fuller last year. Realizing the best way to utilize his skills was to give it flexibility, Kelly requested Hunter learn all of the wide receiver positions during the offseason.
“Coach really stressed that I should learn every position and know the concepts,” Hunter explained to the media. “I’m not striving [to play] any position. I told coach just keep moving me around until you find a fit for me. I don’t really have a preference. I played Z last season…I’ll just work to be the best at it.”
Hunter continued to dazzle his potential to Irish fans with another ridiculous one-handed grab against cornerback Nick Coleman during the annual Blue Gold Game.
Reason for Doubt
The sole reason to doubt Torii Hunter’s future prospects stems from a lack of production. Talk surrounding the senior wide receiver has always revolved around potential that has yet to materialize in any consistent way. The first two years of his career were derailed after suffering a broken femur during practice week of the U.S. Army All-American all-star game that caused him to miss the entirety of his freshman year and limited him to only 7 receptions during his sophomore campaign. And Brian Kelly has insisted Hunter’s lack of appearances during 2015 had more to do with the talent in front of him than a lack of development, but it can’t be ignored that the Texas native disappointingly failed to overtake Amir Carlisle, an individual with a very up-and-down Notre Dame career, at the Z spot last fall.
Torii Hunter’s 2016 Outlook
Torii Hunter’s 28 receptions in 2015 was enough to land him fourth overall on the team in receptions, and given the three wide receivers in front of him have all moved on, by default Irish fans should expect Hunter to be Notre Dame’s No. 1 wide receiver in 2016. But such reasoning truly does a disservice as to why Hunter will be the leader in the wide receiver corps.
Star wide receiver and first-round NFL Draft selection of the Houston Texas, Will Fuller, took an extreme leap at Notre Dame from six receptions his freshman year to 76 catches with 1,094 yards and 15 touchdowns as a sophomore. While it may be unreasonable to hold Hunter to the same standard as Fuller, Torii has the talent, and will get the opportunities, to make a similar leap in production.
The 15 touchdown receptions Fuller snagged in his first opportunity to be the “go to” wide receiver is unlikely to be matched, but Notre Dame fans should expect Torii Hunter to break out in a big way in 2016 and finally live up to his enormous potential.
Scott Janssen is a blogger for the Huffington Post and has authored several nationally-featured articles, including an appearance on MSNBC as a sports contributor. He talks football 24 hours a day, much to the chagrin of his wife and those around him. Scott can be reached at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter.