Notre Dame WR Torii Hunter Jr. "fairly confident" he'll play against Michigan State

Mike Vorel
South Bend Tribune

Torii Hunter Jr. stood just outside the Notre Dame tunnel inside Darrell K. Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium, and watched.

The senior wide receiver's pads were gone, as was his helmet. He was flanked by his parents, his girlfriend, a team trainer and more than 102,000 fans.

He was surrounded by people, yet he felt completely alone.

"I really wanted to be out there with those guys," Hunter Jr. said on Wednesday, a week and a half after Notre Dame lost at Texas in overtime. "Even just on the sideline, I felt so far away from everything that was going on. But I was over there coaching and yelling as much as I could, even though they couldn't hear me.

"I just wanted to be out there, closer to the guys and closer to the game. It was definitely tough watching the game and how it unfolded."

Hunter Jr. was removed from Notre Dame's season-opening 50-47 loss in the third quarter following a high hit from Texas safety DeShon Elliott, in which he secured the football in the end zone only to be knocked temporarily unconscious and crumple to the turf.

He remembers the before and after, but little in between.

"I remember everything leading up to the hit," Hunter said. "I remember catching the ball, having it in my hands. But as soon as I got hit I don't remember any of that, and I don't remember being on the ground.

"The last thing I remember was taking the step down the stairs to go into the locker room, and that's when I was kind of back aware that that's what was going on."

After reviewing the play on tape, Hunter didn't say Wednesday whether he thought targeting should have been called on Elliott.

He did say, however, that he thinks the referees should have done the same thing he did:

Reviewed it.

"I don't know if it warranted a penalty, but it probably deserved a look at it afterwards," Hunter said. "I heard about the new rule, but I mean, it is what it is. I can't control it. I can only go out there and play."

In the closing moments against Texas, Hunter couldn't even do that. He watched his offense get stopped at the end of regulation. He watched Longhorn quarterback Tyrone Swoopes lunge across the goal line for the winning score in the second overtime.

Last week, he watched as his team rebounded in a home-opening 39-10 victory over Nevada.

If he has his way, he'll be done watching.

"I'm feeling a lot better. I'm feeling like myself again," said Hunter, who added that he passed the last stage of Notre Dame's concussion protocol on Sunday. "Yeah, after that last week I kind of felt out of it and I felt slow, sluggish. But Friday, Saturday I started feeling a lot better, but now I'm feeling back to myself and feeling normal."

But is he feeling good enough to contribute on the field? On Wednesday, Hunter said that he's "fairly confident" he'll play against No. 12 Michigan State on Saturday.

A 6-foot, 195-pound wide receiver, Hunter caught four passes for 37 yards and a touchdown before leaving the Texas game. He leads all active Irish players with 39 catches, 465 receiving yards and four scores in his Irish career.

As long as he stays healthy, those numbers will continue to grow.

"We've scored 35-plus points in both games without really using Torii the way we can," Notre Dame quarterback DeShone Kizer said. "He's a veteran guy who is an absolute stud and probably going to be the fastest guy on the field, and you don't even know it. That's the cool thing about it. We've had success on offense, and we still have a lot more that we can tap into.

"To see Torii get a couple more catches in this game and make the plays that a veteran's going to make, it's going to be nice for the quarterback to know that you have a guy that's been through all these experiences, has a couple games under his belt. He's been able to make big plays in big games and be out there with you, and you rely on those (guys) when the time is needed."

With the Spartans looming, Hunter has — almost — put the Texas hit behind him.

"(DeShon Elliott) messaged me on Twitter and apologized about the hit," Hunter said. "He said he didn't mean to target me. And jokingly I said, 'Oh, so you did target?'"

The game is over, but the debate rages on.


Twitter: @mikevorel

Notre Dame’s Torii Hunter Jr. (16) is assisted by team trainers after an injury during the Notre Dame-Texas NCAA college football game on Sunday, Sept. 4, 2016, at Darrell K. Royal–Texas Memorial Stadium in Austin, Texas. Tribune Photo/ROBERT FRANKLIN