Tuesday October 23, 2012Omar Hunter: Giving His All For The Gator Nation
By Lisa Gallo, UF Communications
As a 6-foot, 313-pound redshirt senior, Florida nose tackle Omar Hunter plays a big role for the Gators. He recorded a career-high eight tackles against SEC Eastern Division foe Kentucky earlier this season, earning the league’s Defensive Lineman Player of the Week accolade, but for this Gator, the honor was not that significant.
To Hunter, his leadership off the field is what defines him as a player.
“I try to guide the younger guys to do the right thing,” the Buford, Ga., native said. “We’re not always going to be perfect, no one is, but whatever knowledge I can give to the younger players, whether they’re not having a good day or a good practice, I just try to encourage them to stay on the right path.”
Hunter’s teammates notice this special quality about him, too.
"I’ve always looked up to him because he never, no matter what injury he went through, he never stopped. He just kept going,” said Dominique Easley, a junior defensive end for the Gators.
Hunter prides himself as being “the guy that everyone can come talk to” on the Florida football team.
“It doesn’t matter who you are – whether you’re [Jeff] Driskel or the last walk-on player on the team – it doesn’t matter,” he acknowledged. “I think everyone can say, ‘I can go talk to Omar and I know he’s going to treat everyone the same.”
Prior to enrolling at the University of Florida in 2008, Hunter was a standout at Buford High School and was named a Parade All-American. He was also rated as the No. 2 defensive tackle in the position rankings. That year, former Gator head coach Urban Meyer described him to be “everything you want” in a player.
“We had to have him," Meyer said.
With hype and high expectations on this skilled lineman, Hunter’s presence on the field was minimal during his freshman year, earning a redshirt.
“My freshman year coming in I had heavy expectations,” he acknowledged. “I didn’t really do too well, whether it was due to injury or just not performing up to my ability, I just didn’t do my best.”
Hunter fought back the following season, playing in all 14 games and starting all but three as the Gators finished 13-1 and dominated previously-unbeaten Cincinnati in the 2010 Allstate Sugar Bowl. He was named to the 2009 SEC All-Freshman Team for the defensive line by vote of the league’s head coaches and was also chosen as a second-team Freshman All-American by CollegeFootballNews.com.
Over the next two campaigns, however, Hunter’s productivity took on a downward spiral. In 2010, he started six of 13 games and last year he made one start for Florida in the season finale in Jacksonville. In helping the Gators to a 24-17 victory over Ohio State in the TaxSlayer.com Gator Bowl, Hunter matched his season-best total of six tackles and forced the first fumble of his career.
Revealing his dedication, physical and mental strength, Hunter proved himself to his coaches and has started all six games for the Orange and Blue this season. He credits hard work and the new coaching staff for his progress.
“Last year, I got with Coach [Dan] Quinn and Coach [Bryant] Young and they really developed my game,” Hunter said. “They’re great coaches. All of the knowledge from those guys has helped my game and I think it’s showing up right now.”
Hunter is happy with his current performance on the field and aims to get better each day.
“There is always room for improvement and I think I’ve got more left in me,” he exclaimed. “Right now, I’m playing my best football, I’m in the best shape of my career and I’m having fun.”
His development on the field has not gone unnoticed by the Florida coaching staff.
"Omar continues to have a good senior season," Gator head coach Will Muschamp said. "He played well [against Kentucky] and it was good to hear that he got the SEC Defensive Lineman Player of the Week. It was well deserved."
Quinn, Florida’s second-year defensive coordinator, said that he is pleased with Hunter’s “real serious approach to his game right now.”
“To me, the work ethic from Omar has always been there,” Quinn noted. “He’s a hard worker – day-in and day-out. Now, you’re kind of seeing a more strong and powerful man inside, and that’s showing up in practice by the way he can take on blocks and get off blocks. I’m encouraged about where he is headed.”
Despite the ups and downs of his football career at Florida, Hunter said that he has found his place in The Gator Nation.
Ever since his debut in Ben Hill Griffin Stadium, when his teammates showed him “a lot of love” during a 56-10 romp over Hawaii, Hunter knew that Florida was the right school for him.
“There’s no place that I’ve seen that’s like The Swamp,” he said. “I’ve been to a lot of schools during a lot of different visits, but there’s no place like The Swamp.”
Although he has noticeably developed as a player, Hunter is not stopping now. He hopes to play football at the next level, but, if that opportunity does not arise, Hunter said that being at UF has prepared him for anything his future holds.
“Florida has taught me the meaning of hard work and never to give up – dedication toward something you want,” said Hunter, who will graduate in December with a bachelor’s degree in anthropology. “At Florida, you come here and you think it’s going to be easy, but it’s not. They teach you to grow up, become a man and become a leader. These coaches not only coach you as a football player, but they coach you on your character, being a man and things that will really take me a long way in life.”
To all of the Florida fans out there, Hunter expressed his appreciation: “I love being a part of The Gator Nation. I love football; I love Florida; I love this university. I really appreciate everything that the fans bring each and every Saturday. Hopefully, we can do something for the fans and win a championship this year.”
Hunter said he doesn’t just play the game for himself – he plays for his family, his coaches, his teammates and, “The Gator Nation, of course.”