College Football: Catawba’s Andy Hunt hopes to make the most of last two games

Published 12:30 am Wednesday, November 2, 2016

By Mike London

SALISBURY — Senior tight end Andy Hunt’s first college touchdown finally came on Saturday during Catawba’s 42-7 romp against Brevard.
Hunt tied a record — held by many — for the shortest touchdown reception in history. Officially, it was a 1-yard completion.
Hunt is modest. He was genuinely more excited about it being quarterback Joseph Dress’ first TD pass than about his own breakthrough. He agreed with head coach Curtis Walker that Catawba’s other tight end, Austin Humphries, showed more emotion about Hunt’s TD than Hunt did.
“Humphries was running on the field to congratulate him before the official could put his arms in the air,” Walker joked. “Those tight ends have formed a close bond.”
Hunt thought he had scored in 2014 when he caught a similar toss at Lenoir-Rhyne, although he was denied by a flag.
“We were on the 2-yard line and I caught a pass and was sure I’d scored a touchdown on my birthday,” Hunt said. “But they threw a flag for an illegal receiver downfield. I’m not sure how they could’ve called that on the 2-yard line, but the play came back.”
So Hunt, who will turn 22 a few days after Catawba’s current season ends at L-R, had to wait almost two more years to officially put his first six points in the books.
Hunt is a good example of what college athletics are supposed to be about. He’s a student-athlete with a 3.6 GPA as a business/accounting major. He loves football, but it’s always been secondary in the big picture to getting a degree. He was a redshirt in 2013, so he would be eligible to play in 2017 if he wanted to, but he’s chosen to wrap up his career and move into the business world after graduation.
“It’s crazy how fast it’s all gone by,” Hunt said. “The real world is coming up fast, but I believe I’m ready for it.”
Hunt was a terrific high school athlete at Mount Pleasant High, which is only 21 miles through the country from Salisbury.
Mount Pleasant’s Tigers were competing in 3A in Hunt’s high school days against programs such as Concord and A.L. Brown. Hunt played basketball. In track, he anchored the Tigers’ 4×100 relay team that finished in a dead heat with Hickory Ridge for first place in the 3A Midwest Regional.
In football, he played both ways, a safety on defense and as a slot receiver/tight end on offense. He made 96 catches in three varsity seasons for 1,446 yards and 15 touchdowns.
Hunt weighed 200 pounds as a senior, so he fell into that category of a guy who wasn’t getting big scholarship offers but was coveted and recruited by Division II schools as a walk-on.
“Wingate wanted me as a safety, Lenoir-Rhyne wanted me as a fullback, and Catawba saw me as a tight end,” Hunt said. “Tight end was the position I really wanted to play.”
Hunt also liked what Catawba had to offer academically, and he and his long-time Mount Pleasant buddy Steven Porter (a reserve guard) arrived on campus in 2013. He red-shirted and learned the ropes from veteran tight ends Vince Beam and Terrence Hamilton. He lifted weights and built up size and strength.
“Coaches said I had a chance to play if I could get up to 220 pounds,” Hunt said. “I had to sacrifice some speed, but I gained the weight.”
At 6 feet tall, Hunt’s dimensions are relatively modest in a game of giants. He could pass for a first baseman. If he had a dollar for every time someone told him he didn’t look large enough to play tight end, well, he probably could go ahead and retire right now.
But his work and the sacrifice paid off. He not only was on the field as a sophomore, he started four games. He was a first-stringer as a junior and again this season. For a former walk-on, that’s a tremendous accomplishment. He’s got a fearless willingness to hit people, no matter their size, and that’s probably been his biggest asset.
“Andy bit the bullet coming here, but he’s earned scholarship money,” Walker said. “He’s done the job academically, athletically and socially, and that’s what we ask.”
Tight end in the Catawba system isn’t the glamour position that it is in the NFL. Hunt is a run-blocker first, a pass-protector second, and a pass receiver third.
“We ask Andy to help spring the running backs, protect the quarterback and receive only occasionally,” Walker said. “Most of his receptions are on shuttle passes that are almost running plays. We ask our tight ends to be unselfish. He has been.”
Walker said Hunt understands the X’s and O’s of football like a quarterback.
“I can read a defense,” Hunt agreed. “Unfortunately, I can’t throw the ball.”
Hunt caught only three passes last season, and he has seven receptions for 39 yards this season. Still, he’s always part of whatever success Catawba’s running backs and QBs enjoy.
“He takes a lot of pride in being a Catawba football player,” assistant coach Tim Pangburn said. “He does things the right way and he makes sure everyone else does.”
Senior Day for Catawba is Saturday against Tusculum. It will be an emotional day for every senior, whether he’s a second-year senior like standout cornerback Case Woodard or a sixth-year senior like guard T.J. Olsen and defensive end C.J. Barksdale.
“All our seniors are dear to us, and we want that group to be able to say they were part of teams that had winning seasons four years in a row,” Walker said. “That group has built a solid foundation for our program.”
Catawba would like to have Hunt back next season, but Walker understands his decision to move on into the working world.
“Academics come easy for him,” Walker said. “He’s one of the brightest young men we’ve got, and he’s ready for that next challenge.”
Hunt has spent most of his life playing football, following an older brother, Jake, an All-America safety at Methodist.
But he feels secure moving on, and he’s confident that Catawba’s tight end position will be in good hands next season. He believes freshman Drew Yoos, who is redshirting, could be a future standout.
“I lie in bed now thinking that are only two football games left in my career,” Hunt said. “I want to make the most of them.”