March 21, 2013

Hunt wants to be No. 1

Akeem Hunt can be described in many ways: a scat back, a change-of-pace runner, a homerun hitter.

All of those are fine, but they're not the title he wants; instead, the junior, Purdue's leading returning rusher from 2012, is hoping to be known as an all-around running back.

"That's my goal, to prove I can be an every-down back, rather than just being a big-play guy," Hunt said Tuesday following Purdue's first practice of the spring.

Hunt is getting his opportunity to prove he can be more multidimensional this spring, when he gets to work with Purdue's first unit following the graduation of Akeem Shavers and Ralph Bolden. And before three freshmen arrive for fall camp.

"I feel great being on the first team, getting more reps," Hunt said. "I'm going faster, feeling good."

But it will be about more than speed for Hunt. Last season, he was able to use primarily that skill to rush for 335 yards on only 42 carries, a whopping eight yards per attempt. He had an 81-yarder and another 50-plus-yard rush, with a couple of touchdowns. Highlighting his big-play potential, he also averaged 15.7 yards on his 13 catches, including two TDs, one of which came after a 63-yard reception. And, of course, he returned a kick for a touchdown.

"He has a lot of speed and play-making," QB Rob Henry said. "The play that really comes to mind is Ohio State, with that kick-off return. You saw him make a few moves and leave everybody."

But he was also untouched on the return, darting in and out of traffic before running away. Rushing between the tackles, which he'd have to do to be an early-down running back, has been more of a challenge, especially in the physical Big Ten.

But this offseason, the 5-foot-9 Georgia native put on a few pounds of muscle, building up to 190 pounds - he was listed at 175 in the preseason last year - to better be able to hold up.

"He's been working really hard in the weight room," Henry said. "He's somebody who wants to be great and he's going to keep pushing himself. He will be a difference-maker, but can be a big-time player in our conference."

In an 11-on-11 scrimmage Tuesday, Hunt often showed his burst, breaking quickly off tackle to get up-field. But those were non-contact drills, without pads, and his development involves more than rushing.

As a specialty back, Hunt was infrequently asked to block for the quarterback; instead, he'd be involved by getting a handoff or running a route. That would all change now.

"Protection, protection, protection, learn how to block," he said of improvements he needs. "Learn how to use tempo, avoid big hits and run."

Hunt made one other change in the offseason. After two seasons wearing No. 11, he dropped a number and is only 1 now. During a chat Tuesday, it was suggested that perhaps extra digit fell off his jersey during a speedy run.

It wasn't that, but his own request.

"I tried to get a number that highlighted my speed," he said. "That's all."

Now, though, Hunt will need to live up to being No. 1.

"If that's the pressure he wants to put on himself, then so be it," Henry said. "Let's go get it."

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