Torii Hunter sees big things for his son at Notre Dame

Torii Hunter sees big things for his son at Notre Dame
August 14, 2013, 12:30 pm
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Torii Hunter was a fan of Notre Dame long before his son committed to play football in South Bend.

The 38-year-old Detroit Tigers outfielder, a native of Pine Bluff, Ark., grew up idolizing Tony Rice, the last quarterback to win a National Championship at Notre Dame.

"He was my favorite player. I tried to be an option quarterback just like him," Hunter said. "I watched him in 1988 and '87, he was an option quarterback, fast, who could throw, he could do everything. Man, I watched No. 9 all the time."

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Twenty-five years later, Hunter has another reason to support the Irish.

His son, Torii Hunter Jr., committed to Notre Dame last September and came to South Bend this summer rated as a four-star wide receiver by Unlike other schools, Notre Dame offered Hunter Jr. the opportunity to play baseball in addition to football, and he developed a good relationship with Kerry Cooks -- whose wife grew up with Hunter in Arkansas.

"And then they told him about the 40-year commitment, just the commitment they have outside of sports, and the quality of life after sports and after college," Hunter said of what sealed the deal for his son.

A broken femur suffered in an all-star game in early January, though, will keep Hunter Jr. on the sidelines this fall. Hunter said his son has been running for two or three weeks and has no pain, but doesn't expect him to play for the Irish in 2013.

"I definitely think waiting one more year won't hurt," Hunter said. "He just turned 18. He had the femur break, I just want him to be 100 percent instead of playing at 90 his freshman year. He can be a freshman next year -- not a true freshman, but he'll be a freshman next year and ready to go."

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Hunter Jr. profiles as a slot receiver, the kind of guy who Notre Dame sees as an explosive playmaker in the future. Coach Brian Kelly lauded Hunter Jr.'s lineage on signing day, citing the athleticism that's earned his father nine Gold Gloves.

"We think he's got that burst, if you will, that ability to take it and go from anywhere on the field," Kelly said. "We think he's an inside guy that can really make a difference for us within our offensive structure."

While recovering from his broken femur, Hunter Jr. put on 11 pounds and weighs closer to 190, according to his father (he's listed at 178 on Notre Dame's official roster). He knows what it takes from traveling and being around athletes for most of his life, especially while serving as the Minnesota Twins' bat boy while his father played there.

Hunter bought an apartment near campus and plans on being at several home games this season. He'll be among the recognizable faces on the sidelines this fall, part of a group of dads that includes David Robinson and Jon Bon Jovi.

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And ever since his son committed, Hunter's been recognized not only as a five-time All-Star outfielder, but also as a Notre Dame dad.

"There's nothing more closely-knit than Notre Dame, from what I've been seeing," Hunter said. "Going to Yankee Stadium, everybody's saying, ‘go Irish,’ or here in Chicago, I could go to L.A. and hear ‘go Irish’ -- it's everywhere, the network. And right now I definitely think he made the right choice."