When Tony Hunt first stepped on the field in Beaver Stadium four years ago he was an unknown freshman forced to fight for playing time with Ricky Upton and a much more highly regarded freshman named Austin Scott. Tony didn't show blazing speed and he didn't have any fancy moves. Just getting significant playing time was his goal.
I remember sitting in the stands for that 2003 Temple game all the way up in section EJ row 81. Following Larry Johnson's improbably run to 2000 yards, everyone was eager to see Penn State's next great runningback. We did see the next great Nittany Lion runningback that day, but it wasn't Austin Scott. Tony Hunt sat on the sideline until the third quarter. He ended the day with three carries for 12 yards. He finished his freshman year with only 34 carries and 110 yards.
In his sophomore year Hunt solidified the starting job by focusing on the parts of the game he could do well. He caught the ball better than Scott. He blocked better than Scott. While Scott was still trying to run around people and break the 80 yard run like he did in high school, Tony focused on lowering his head and just getting one extra yard. He established himself as Penn State's most lethal weapon on offense leading the team in rushing and catches. Unfortunately, the rest of the offense was so bad that Tony never really got the recognition he deserved.
It was his junior year when Penn State fans finally started to adore him for the hard nosed player he is. He wasn't pretty and he wasn't flashy, but he became the first Penn State running back to break 1000 yards since LJ in 2002. Even still, Tony Hunt was just a good player on Michael Robinson's team in 2005.
Going into his senior year in 2006, most people considered him the fourth or fifth best running back in the Big Ten. They said he was too slow. Coming off an ankle injury in the Orange Bowl, they said he wasn't durable enough. He shared carries with Scott and Kinlaw his entire career just adding more fuel to the fire. But when Scott and Kinlaw went down in the preseason and Michael Robinson playing on Sundays, it was finally Tony's team. And he didn't disappoint.
There were games he single handedly won in 2006, like Purdue, Michigan State, and Tennessee. There were games he was the only one keeping it close, like Ohio State, Michigan, and Wisconsin. As the weeks wore on Penn State fans began realizing what a hidden treasure they had. When it was all said and done, the kid who four years ago wasn't even considered the second best running back on the team, was now the second leading career rusher in Penn State history.
This week Tony Hunt was once again put to the test. He was put on a team with several running backs that had bigger numbers than him. They were faster than him. Had better moves than him. Projected to go higher in the NFL draft than him. Tony wasn't fazed. He went out and did what he always does. Work harder than the next guy and don't give up. As the week went on he turned heads and impressed scouts. Then yesterday in the Senior Bowl he ran for 38 yards on 8 carries and scored a touchdown. When it was all said and done, the little known running back from Alexandria, Virginia was named the game's MVP.
Congratulations, Tony. You went into the week considered a fourth round prospect. Now you may go as high as the second round and many scouts believe you will have a prosperous career in the NFL as an every-down back. Now go get paid, brother. You earned every penny.