PISCATAWAY, N.J. — An injury and a targeting penalty might give Rutgers redshirt freshman safety Andre Hunt his first start.
Hunt will get a lot of work in practice this week as the Scarlet Knights (4-1, 0-1) prepare for their Big Ten Conference game against reeling Michigan (2-3, 0-1) on Saturday at High Point Solutions Stadium.
Hunt was pushed into the spotlight in the third quarter of Rutgers’ win against Tulane when backup safety Johnathan Aiken was flagged for a targeting penalty and disqualified.
It meant that he missed the rest of the game and will miss the first half of this week’s game.
With starter Delon Stephenson battling a lower body injury, Hunt, a walk-on, could get the start.
“Now that I got my feet wet with playing college football I feel like I will be ready if I have a huge role,” Hunt said. “It’s just being prepared. That’s all it is.”
Hunt knows this would be a giant step for him, playing Michigan, under the lights, on the Big Ten Network.
At the beginning of this year, I didn’t really expect to play a lot,” Hunt said. “Being a walk-on I thought I was going to be on the scout team again and help the offense get a look.”
Hunt played special teams in the season opener, got some work in Week 2 against Howard and eventually made his mark in the fourth game two weeks ago against Navy. On the Mids’ final drive, Hunt came off the end on a blitz and sacked Keenan Reynolds for a 10-yard loss on a second and goal from the 6-yard line, and helped seal the victory for the Knights.
“There’s people who welcome pressure and there’s people who let pressure crush them and I think Andre’s the type of kid who welcomes pressure,” defensive tackle Darius Hamilton said. “He’s done everything he can to put himself in position to be successful and I think he’s going to be ready Saturday no matter what.”
— Andre Hunt
Hunt was a running back in high school, and when he got to Rutgers, he moved to wide receiver and then safety, playing defense for the first time since his Pop Warner days.
Most of his work early in the season was on the scout team. Rather than preparing quarterback Gary Nova for the Wolverines defense, he’s preparing himself to face Michigan quarterbacks Devin Gardner and Shane Morris.
Fellow safety Lorenzo Waters said Hunt is poised.
“He doesn’t get caught up in the stage and all the glamour that’s going on,” Waters said. “He’s just trying to go out there and do his job and that’s why I feel comfortable with him out there. He’s always focused. He’s an intense player and he’ll stay on his task.”
Hunt’s father, Leon, played running back at Wisconsin from 1986-1990.
“I’ve dreamed about playing against Michigan because I always wanted to play in the Big Ten,” he said. “It’s going to be a dream come true just to be on the field against them. They’re a great team.”
It’s one Hunt never thought would come this soon. But now that it has, he plans to capitalize on it.
“I’m very shocked, but I’m also very excited that it’s come this fast,” Hunt said. “I’ve just been waiting for this opportunity to come and I’m just going to make the most of it.”
Rutgers has been used to change in the secondary this season. If Hunt starts, it would be the Scarlet Knights’ sixth different lineup in the secondary in as many games, though most of the shuffling has been at cornerback.
Waters said he didn’t notice the changing lineups because they’re used to shuffling.
“We rotate, we play with each other. It’s nothing new,” he said. “It’s new to everyone else that hasn’t been at practice, but it’s nothing new for me to line up with whoever at corner, whoever at safety, we all have been side by side at some point.”
— Greg Johnson (@gregp_j) September 30, 2014