Jan. 18, 2011
By Eric Trainer
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. -- It didn't take Justin Hunter long to demonstrate what kind of difference he can make for the University of Tennessee track & field team. After a sensational showing at the Kentucky Invitational on Saturday afternoon in Lexington, the 6-foot-4 long jumper from Virginia Beach, Va., was named the Southeastern Conference Indoor Track & Field Male Freshman of the Week, the league announced Tuesday.
Hunter, who only began training with the track & field staff last week, didn't take long to shift gears from wide receiver to jumper. After snaring 16 passes for 415 yards and a UT-rookie-record seven touchdowns for the football team, the lanky product of Ocean Lakes High School automatically qualified for the 2011 NCAA Indoor Championships in his very first college track meet.
After failing to clear a height in the high jump on Friday night, Hunter returned to UK's Nutter Field House on Saturday and proceeded to win the long jump competition with a leap of 26 feet, one inch. That mark, a UT freshman record, earned him a trip to College Station, Texas, where he will take part in the national championship meet on March 11-12.
His effort, which was a huge improvement over his previous indoor best of 23-6 1/2 and his 2010 USA Junior Outdoor Championship mark of 25-10 3/4, ranks him No. 4 in the NCAA early in the 2011 campaign. A look at the 2010 results impressively showed he would have finished second with that measurement at last year's NCAA Indoor Championship meet.
After only one competition, Hunter already ranks No. 3 on UT's all-time indoor performers list. Standing in front of him on that honor roll, within easy striking distance, are Darius Pemberton (26-5 1/2, 1995) and Jason Grimes (26-4, 1980).
Hunter's heroics didn't come without drama, as he barely made it into the finals at Kentucky before his epic outburst. The Vol rookie sandwiched a fair leap of 23-1 1/4 in between fouls on his first and third attempts. That was enough to nab the 10th and last qualifying spot and earn three more jumps.
In the finals, the Vol standout confidently carded results of 24-6 1/4, 25-8 and 26-1. He would have won the competition with either of his final two attempts.
Next up for Hunter and the UT track & field teams, a trip to Hunter's home state, where the Big Orange will take part in the Hokie Invitational in Blacksburg, Va., on Friday and Saturday.