Torii Hunter Jr. primed to make an impact on Notre Dame

Torii Hunter Jr. primed to make an impact on Notre Dame
December 19, 2013, 9:00 am
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SOUTH BEND, Ind. — Torii Hunter Jr. hasn't made a name for himself yet at Notre Dame, so he remains synonymous with his nine-time Gold Glove-winning father.

But the younger Hunter is firmly on the radar of coach Brian Kelly with the work he's put in during Notre Dame's bowl practices. And if Kelly's hunch is correct, the name Torii Hunter may begin to be associated with football in the not-too-distant future.

"He's a pretty good player, that's all I'll say," Kelly said Saturday. "He hasn't caught a pass, hasn't caught a touchdown, but you're going to be talking about him. He's a pretty good player."

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Hunter returned from a broken leg to serve on Notre Dame's scout team for the second half of the season, where his work earned him the team's offensive scout team player of the year award. The plan was always for Hunter to redshirt, but that didn't mean the transition was necessarily easy at first.

"Not being used to not being out there on the field, that was definitely tough at first," Hunter, who broke his left femur during practice for the All-American Bowl in January, said. "But you just kind of find your role, and I found mine on the scout team helping the defense out and giving them the best look possible."

Hunter wouldn't commit to saying he's back to 100 percent just yet, though he's no longer limited in terms of contact or taking reps in practice. And while he left room for improvement in terms of healing a bit more and adding some more strength, he's confident in both himself and his leg.

"I don't really limit myself to anything," Hunter said. "I'm jumping up for balls, trying to make the catch. There's not really any fear."

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Outgoing wide receiver T.J. Jones doesn't think Hunter's at 100 percent, but he's seen flashes of potential from the freshman in practice. Billed as an explosive playmaker out of high school in Prosper, Texas, a full-strength Hunter could be "one of the greats to come through here," Jones said.

"You see him make plays, you see him beat one-on-one matchups, you see him make contested catches," Jones added. "He's making plays and showing his ability and showing that next year he's a guy that they need to watch."

For the second straight spring, Hunter won't play baseball — the broken leg kept him in the dugout his senior year of high school — and he's not sure when he'll pick up a glove again. His focus is on football, though Kelly said if Hunter establishes himself in spring practice he'd be open to the possibility of letting him play baseball in the spring of 2015.

While Hunter was a 36th-round pick of the Detroit Tigers — his father's current team — his future, for now, is all about football.

"I don't know if he can hit," Kelly said. "… I don't know if he can steal bases or catch fly balls. But he can play football."