Sept. 2, 2011
By Brian Rice
What pregame ritual powers Justin Hunter? A playlist on his iPod? A motivational book? A pregame walk round Shields-Watkins Field?
"Twizzlers, man," Hunter said. "Twizzlers, Skittles, Starburst, anything with sugar."
A pregame tradition that dates to his days at Ocean Lake High School in Virginia Beach, Va., continues to power the sophomore into the 2011 football season.
"Our coach told us not to eat sweets before the game," he said. "But I always stopped at 7-Eleven to get candy and drink a soda. When I got here, everyone thought I was weird because I'd drink soda before practice and it wouldn't affect me."
Hunter recently found that at least one of his teammates is more than willing to help feed his craving. "I went to the store during camp and he asked me to bring back Twizzlers," sophomore quarterback Tyler Bray said. "I got the wrong kind, but they were still good. Least I could do."
UT's training staff tried to tone down Hunter's pregame sugar rush as part of a larger maturation process for the pass-catching phenom.
Hunter entered UT last season well-regarded for his physical abilities. Track & Field News rated him as the nation's No. 3 long jumper, No. 7 high jumper and No. 14 triple jumper coming out of high school.
That ability translated into a freshman campaign on the football field that ended with a spot on the SEC All-Freshman team after 16 receptions for 415 yards and a Tennessee freshman-record seven touchdowns. His big-play ability was on display all season, with a 25.9-yard receiving average that included four touchdown catches of 30 yards or longer. Following football season, Hunter took his talents back to track and field and earned a spot on another SEC All-Freshman team to go with All-America honors in the long jump during indoor season.
Returning to the gridiron, Hunter is looking to build his abilities as a more complete wide receiver this season in hopes that his teammates share in the benefits.
"Last year I was out there just catching the ball," he said. "This year I'm blocking better, trying to be a better route-runner, so I can open up the run and open up Da'Rick (Rogers) some. To be a complete receiver, I have to do all of that. I'm getting better every day and I know everyone else is seeing that in me. I'm enjoying every bit of it."
For an extra boost, Hunter still may look to an old standby.
"I had Twizzlers before the Ole Miss game last year," Hunter said.
And all Hunter did that afternoon was total three catches for 114 yards and a pair of touchdowns, including an 80-yard strike on UT's first offensive play.