Tuesday, April 23, 2013
Boilers' Hunt on fast track to complete back
By Adam Rittenberg
It's your move, Dri Archer. Akeem Hunt is waiting.
Hunt, Purdue's senior running back and return man extraordinaire, watched and admired Archer from a distance last season as the Kent State dynamo earned consensus All-America honors as an all-purpose player in 2012. The 5-foot-8 Archer led the nation in kick return average (36.9 ypr), led Kent State in both rushing and receiving yards, set the single-season team touchdowns record (23) and finshed fifth nationally in all-purpose yards (184.1 ypg).
"He's very explosive," Hunt told ESPN.com. "When he gets the ball, he can make one cut and just be out."
The same can be said of Hunt, who averaged eight yards per rush, 15.7 yards per reception and 22.2 yards per kick return, including a 100-yard scoring return against Ohio State, for the Boilers in 2012. Hunt recorded four scoring plays of 50 yards or longer last fall.
When Darrell Hazell, who coached Archer at Kent State last season, took the same post at Purdue, the drumbeat soon began for a showdown between two of the Midwest's fastest college football players.
"[Purdue's coaches] always say they would like to see us race," Hunt said.
As for Hunt?
"I would do it," he said, smiling. "I'd race him."
Perhaps Hunt-Archer I becomes a reality sometime this summer, but until then, Hunt will continue working toward the role Archer had for Kent State in 2012 -- a speed threat, but so much more. Hunt set out this spring to show Hazell and the new staff that he could be an every-down back after playing behind Akeem Shavers last season, and Shavers and Ralph Bolden in 2011.
He undoubtedly strengthened his case during the 15 spring practices, taking the lion's share of the reps with the first-team offense. Purdue had only three running backs in the fold this spring, but Hunt separated himself and capped the session with 134 rush yards and a touchdown on 19 carries in the spring game.
"I have a lot of confidence in him," Hazell said after the scrimmage. "I think he’s a marquee guy in this league because he does have some balance. He has some inline quickness and he has some top-end speed to take it the distance. And he is showing some toughness. ... The key for him is to get stronger in the offseason and continue to learn the game.
"But where he is right now, I think he's going to be pretty special if he keeps working at it."
Hunt is working hard to mold himself into a complete Big Ten running back. He added five pounds during the winter and checks in at 190, not massive by any chance but a bit sturdier than he was as a junior.
"I feel like I can run through tackles now," he said. "[The coaches] get onto me about that every day, that if I'm going to be that No. 1 guy, I can't get broken down by just one person. I have to be broken down by a group of people. ... I feel like I can run between the tackles now instead of just doing sweeps. I feel like I can run power and zone much better."
There’s no doubt Hunt will continue to play a big role for Purdue on special teams, an area Hazell stressed throughout his first spring in West Lafayette. But Hunt has bigger goals for his senior season. Running back David Yancey enrolled early at Purdue and went through spring ball, and three more backs -- Keith Byars II, Keyante Green and Dalyn Dawkins -- arrive this summer. It’s clear, though, that Hunt is the man to beat.
Hunt tried to go full speed on every drill this spring, particularly in pass-blocking, a potential area of concern because of his size. After full days of football, he spent 20 minutes every night studying and reviewing the playbook.
“In his ideal world,” Hazell said, “he’d like to carry it 25 times a game.”
New offensive coordinator John Shoop will have the backs line up in the slot and even out wide in addition to the backfield. The primary goal, Hunt says, is to “get us in open space to make plays."
"Akeem is a super fast guy," Shoop told ESPN.com. "He shows electricity."
Few Big Ten players are as dangerous in space as Hunt, who has been clocked at 4.31 seconds in the 40-yard dash and aims to eclipse that time this summer. Hunt comes from a family of runners: his parents, siblings and grandmother all competed in track at the middle school and high school levels. His mother, Sophia Lewis, ran track at Southwestern Christian College in Texas.
Akeem competed in the 100- and 200-meter dash for Newton High School in Covington, Ga., and also did the long jump and triple jump. He grew up playing baseball and only started football after moving to Covington.
Hunt knew he'd have enough speed to succeed at the college level, but developing game speed proved to be a challenge.
"Game speed is very different from just being fast," he said. "You have to know the plays. Instead of thinking, you just have to react and play."
Hunt is soft-spoken and polite -- he begins many answers with "Yes, sir" or "No, sir" -- but he's honest and confident about his speed.
"Can anyone catch me in the open field? No, I don’t think so," he said with a smile.
Hunt, by his own admission, is Purdue's fastest player. Wide receivers Raheem Mostert and B.J. Knauf come close, and cornerbacks Ricardo Allen and Frankie Williams like challenging him.
"He's so competitive, it makes no sense," Hunt said of Allen. "Frankie Williams is competitive, too. Me and Frankie, we raced last year, and it wasn't fair to him."
Hunt needs a challenge. Dri Archer, we're waiting.