Few players in Virginia Tech history have arrived in Blacksburg with as much pomp and circumstance as Devon Hunter. The former blue-chip prospect from Chesapeake, Va. was expected by some fans to play an integral role on the Hokies’ defense right away in 2017.
Instead, Hunter served as the backup to Reggie Floyd at rover and saw most of his time on the field on special teams. He didn’t redshirt in 2017, but he didn’t play much either.
The rocky road began when Hunter kicked off fall camp with a concussion. He also dealt with a hamstring injury and didn’t feel healthy until the season had already begun.
“I was always in either a blue or green jersey,” Hunter said. “But I didn’t like that. I wanted to be out there playing with my teammates, not sitting there watching them. I wanted to actually run through the drills and stuff. But when I got healthy, it felt better. But it was frustrating though.”
Hunter’s injuries hindered his development and kept him further behind Floyd at rover. As it would turn out, Floyd held his own at the position and started all 13 games for the Hokies. Hunter played very few snaps on Virginia Tech’s defense in 2017, but played on four special teams units. It wasn’t the role many thought he would play prior to the season, but it’s a role that Hunter embraced.
“The good thing about Virginia Tech is that it’s big here,” Hunter said. “Like, special teams are big. Me playing on special teams was an honor. I just learned, did what I had to do. I learned from the guys that were in front of me. So, they kind of lead the way and I just did what I needed to do. Coach (James) Shibest does a great job explaining everything and putting me in the position to do what I have to do.”
Fast forward to this spring, and Hunter is working with the first team defense. The Tech coaches have moved him to the whip/nickelback position, which seems like his new home.
“We could move him back, depending on Mook’s situation and what not, but right now we’re trying to develop that next guy at that position,” said defensive coordinator Bud Foster. “I think he’s handled things very well so far.”
At 6-feet and 218 pounds, Hunter seems like an ideal fit for the position. He’s big and physical enough to play well against the run and has enough athleticism to be a force in the alley against slot receivers.
“It’s pretty fun,” Hunter said. “I get to go around, fly around, cover slot receivers, play in space and just help my team the best I can.”
Of course, Hunter won’t be the starter at whip/nickelback this fall. Senior Mook Reynolds should assume the starting role again when healthy. That said, Hunter has no problem picking Reynolds’ brain while backing him up.
“Mook teaches me a lot,” Hunter said. “I remember in high school, I used to look up to him all the time. I still look up to him. Yeah, he teaches me a lot. He tells me how to take on blocks and get underneath stuff and how to fit. Basically, how to play faster.”
So yes, it’s unlikely that Hunter will start in 2018. And yes, that will disappoint some fans who expected Hunter to be an impact player as a true freshman. But Hunter is handling the unreasonable expectations as well as one could, waiting for his time to shine.
“He’s approached every day with a workmanlike attitude,” said head coach Justin Fuente. “There’s been no diva or prima donna in him, quite honestly, which is probably why he chose to come here. You’ve got a guy that could go anywhere in America and he wants to stay home and continue the 757 lineage at Virginia Tech. But also, he’s about getting a degree and working hard and doing things the right way. He’s not caught up in some of the things that are less important.
“I’ve been really happy with him. I think he’s handled it really well. He’s the type of person you feel like you need to protect from outrageous expectations because he’s still just a young man that’s trying to learn how to play the game. It’s a lot different than when he was playing free safety [in high school] and they told him to line up as deep as the deep is, and don’t let anybody behind you and go tackle the guy with the ball. It’s just a lot more to it. He’s handled it really well.”
Despite not earning a starting role just yet, Foster is looking forward to when Hunter is truly ready.
“I think going through fall ball and being in meetings, being in kicking situations, finishing games has prepared him to do what he’s doing right now,” Foster said. “That’s what it’s like with a lot of young players. But he’s handled everything very well. He’s a grounded kid and he’s coming to work every day and I’m excited about his future.”