Notre Dame WR Torii Hunter Jr. looks to make a splash in Texas return

Mike Vorel
South Bend Tribune

Torii Hunter Jr. received a scholarship offer from Texas.

He didn’t hear about it until he verbally committed to Notre Dame.

“I didn’t know I had an offer,” Notre Dame’s senior wide receiver said on Wednesday. “After I committed here I got a letter and it said, ‘We hate to see that you didn’t commit to the University of Texas.’ I was like, ‘Umm …’ I didn’t know.”

Had he known, Hunter’s decision probably wouldn’t have been any different. A Prosper, Texas, native and consensus four-star recruit, Hunter grew up watching Vince Young and Colt McCoy. He was a Texas fan, because everybody around him was a Texas fan.

When he visited for the Longhorns’ 45-0 victory over New Mexico on Sept. 8, 2012, he was impressed with the in-game atmosphere. He was impressed with the campus and fan base, too.

As for the coaching staff? Not so much.

“After the game, I figured I’d meet some coaches or something like that, but I didn’t get to meet any coaches,” Hunter recalled. “(Former head coach) Mack Brown came out of media and he shook my hand and was like, ‘Glad to see you,’ and just kind of walked off. That’s kind of how it went. But now I’m here and I’m happy.”

DeShone Kizer and Malik Zaire are happy to have him, too. The 6-foot, 195-pound wide receiver carries 35 career catches into Sunday’s season opener, while the rest of Notre Dame’s exceptionally youthful wide receiving corps touts two career catches combined.

Hunter isn’t departed first round NFL Draft pick Will Fuller.

Fortunately for the 10th-ranked Irish, he doesn’t need to be.

“To say Torii is Will, he’s completely different,” said Kizer, Notre Dame’s junior quarterback. “Torii has some other things that he’s really good at. Coming from the slot, he’s learned to be fearless. He’s learned to be able to run full speed into places where there’s a lot of big guys. That’s what you’d like your playmaker to have.

“You want to put the ball in his hands at all positions. Will was an outside receiver who liked to get space from guys. Torii is a guy that can do that as well as step inside and still run a crossing route or run a slant.”

Added head coach Brian Kelly: “He'll play well. We're not ready to put him up in the category of All-American. He's got to go prove himself. He hasn't proven himself yet. But he's going to be a good receiver for us.

“But he needs help. He's going to have to have complementary receivers around him. So for us to say Torii Hunter's going to be our savior is fool's gold.”

Against a team Notre Dame clobbered 38-3 a season ago, the Irish offense shouldn’t need one savior. It has two quality quarterbacks, a mauling offensive line, three quality running backs…

And one versatile wideout Texas wanted (after the fact).

“I’m sure there’s pressure there, but I don’t try to notice it,” Hunter said of his increased role. “I just try to go out there and play the same game that I’ve been playing. I’m just looking to make plays whenever they’re thrown my way.”

Come Sunday, Hunter should have more passes thrown his way than in previous games of his Irish career.

“He's going to have to make some plays for us,” Kelly said. “But he's got to play himself into some confidence as well. He doesn't have a big résumé. He's got to go make some plays himself.

“So as much as we are young, he's inexperienced in the sense that he's got to play a lot more football and play a lot more snaps than he's ever played before.”

In his first game inside Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium since Texas’ victory over New Mexico in 2012, Hunter will get a chance to show the Longhorn faithful what they’ve missed.

And a quick word of advice to Texas coaches moving forward:

Next time you bestow an offer, it’s probably best to call.


Twitter: @mikevorel

Torii Hunter Jr. (16) during practice on Notre Dame Football Media Day Wednesday, Aug. 17, 2016, at LaBar Practice Field on the Notre Dame campus in South Bend. Tribune Photo/ROBERT FRANKLIN