Marshall football: Move to strong-side linebacker gives boost to Hunter, Herd
HUNTINGTON, W.Va. -- D.J. Hunter had been itching to make an impact on defense for Marshall. He got his chance ... just not in the role he originally thought.
That change in position wasn't a hurdle. In fact, it was a boost. The former backup strong safety turned starting strong-side linebacker has zoomed up the defensive charts and put a stranglehold on that leading role as the Thundering Herd (2-4, 1-1 Conference USA) visits Southern Miss (0-6, 0-2) at 7 p.m. Saturday (CBS Sports Network).
At the season's start, Hunter thought his future would be at strong safety. He looked like he could have cracked the secondary rotation as a true freshman in 2011 until a torn meniscus sidelined him for the season. He began this season as Dominick LeGrande's backup.
But after Marshall's 69-34 loss to West Virginia, coaches approached Hunter to move closer to the line of scrimmage. Aloha, strong safety. Greetings, strong-side linebacker.
"My first reaction was I'm going to do what I've got to do to get on the field," he said.
His ascension was quick. When Marshall kicked off the next week against Western Carolina, Hunter had supplanted Raheem Waiters as the starter on the strong side. He responded with six tackles in the Herd's 52-24 win.
The redshirt freshman currently is fifth on the team in tackles with 40 - 19 of them solo and one tackle for loss. He's also recorded two quarterback hurries and a forced fumble.
He said the transition hasn't been really tough. Many of the aspects of playing strong safety translate to strong-side linebacker, though learning the run gaps was a chore.
When he had questions, he said defensive graduate assistant Aaron Hill was there to answer them.
He's had to learn on the job, but Hunter said it's coming easier to him.
"At first it was kind of hard," he said.
"But now I'm getting used to it. The game has slowed down now so it isn't too bad anymore."
That was one thing Hunter had to get used to. He entered college and had to get used to the increased speed of the game. The game finally slowed down for him at strong safety, and then it kicked back into a faster gear when he moved to linebacker.
"When I was at safety, I felt more comfortable because I was like, I finally learned it, spending all spring with it," he said. "And then I moved to linebacker and I was like, it's back to this again, I've got to learn."
Hunter's teammates think he's learned well. Defensive end Armonze Daniel, who moved from strong-side linebacker to defensive end, said Hunter's move was a good one.
"I think he's doing a tremendous job," he said. "I think he's an excellent player, very athletic and very competitive. He's done a great job."
Coach Doc Holliday said that, with the way Hunter has performed so far, his hold on that starting job should remain strong.
"I think D.J. Hunter is starting to step up and make some plays," he said. "D.J.'s going to be a really good football player. He's been out of football for a couple of years and I think he's starting to feel comfortable there and it shows with the number of plays he's been making."
Contact sportswriter Derek Redd at firstname.lastname@example.org or 304-348-1712. His blog is at blogs.dailymail.com/marshall.