Angels deal won't keep Torii Hunter Jr. away from ND football

Eric Hansen
South Bend Tribune

The pictures and tweets spilled into cyberspace Saturday night, prompting some confusion — if not outright panic — among Notre Dame football followers.

But not from Irish head football coach Brian Kelly.

Senior wide receiver Torii Hunter Jr. signed a professional baseball contract with the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim on Saturday, two weeks after the team made him their 23rd-round selection in the latest draft.

Hunter’s mom, Katrina, and father, Torii Sr. were on hand for the signing. The retired outfielder spent five of his 19 Major League seasons with the Angels.

The Saturday signing does truncate Hunter Jr.’s Notre Dame baseball career, comprising 23 career games, 12 at-bats, two hits, two stolen bases, seven runs scores and one RBI for the outfielder/pinch runner spread over the 2014 and ’15 seasons.

It does not affect his upcoming football season or his summer preparation for it.

The NCAA allows players to be a professional in one sport while maintaining their amateur status in another. In recent years, Notre Dame two-sport stars Pat Connaughton (basketball/baseball), Jeff Samardzija (football/baseball) and Tom Zbikowski (football/boxing) all took advantage of that.

So will Hunter. And the 6-foot, 195-pound senior from Prosper, Texas, is coming off a transcendent spring in which he established himself as ND’s No. 1 option in the passing game, while moonlighting on the baseball diamond as a part-time player.

With senior receiver Corey Robinson recently electing to walk away from football due to multiple concussions, Hunter is the only wide receiver on the 2016 roster with more than two career receptions. He has 35 for 428 yards and three TDs, with 28 of those catches coming last season.

Senior linebacker James Onwualu is second on the team in career receptions at the wide receiver position, with two catches — both coming his freshman season as a receiver.

An Angels spokesman said Hunter emphasized the ND receiver's focus will be on football. Per Katrina Hunter, Torii Jr. will not play in July for an Angels' affiliate, as Samardzija did in the Cubs' minor league system in 2006 and Connaughton for the Orioles' short-season Class A team in Aberdeen (Md.) in 2014.

Instead, he'll remain in summer school, the player's mother said, to stay on track for his degree. The Irish begin August training camp on Aug. 6 in Culver, Ind.

"His degree is the most important thing," Katrina Hunter said.

Kelly said earlier this month that he and Torii Jr. had talked about him keeping his options open in both sports but feels Hunter's future is brightest in football.

“Here’s what I told him, ‘Sixth-round draft picks in football this year — sixth round — had a $100,000 signing bonus,’ ” Kelly said back on June 14. “ ’So if you were a 23rd-round pick in baseball, would you get $100,000? And I think you’re way better than a sixth-round pick in football. So how about you play really well this year for everybody.’ ”

Hunter does have a fifth-year option in football for 2017, because he was a medical redshirt as a freshman in 2013.

“He graduates at mid-year,” Kelly said. “Whether he comes back for another year or not, we’ll see how that goes. But if he has a really, really good year this year, then he can take stock as to what the best decision is for him.

“I think he’s a guy who could do quite well for himself. You saw what kind of bonuses second-and third-round (NFL) picks can get. It’s a whole lot more than $100,000. So I think he’s got a lot of options in front of him.”

@thunterjr_ Is officially an Angel. #hardworkneverstops

A video posted by Torii Hunter (@tnutts48) on Jun 26, 2016 at 8:35am PDT

Congratulations to Torii Hunter Jr. who officially signed with the #Angels today! pic.twitter.com/KRuWJf72Zt

— Angels (@Angels) June 26, 2016

Notre Dame's Torii Hunter Jr. soaks in the action from the Irish dugout this past spring. Photo courtesy of Notre Dame Sports Information/DAVID WEIGEL