Torii Hunter Jr. opts for pro baseball over return to Notre Dame football

Eric Hansen
South Bend Tribune

In the end, Torii Hunter Jr., followed his heart back to his first love.

The Notre Dame senior wide receiver announced on Twitter Thursday afternoon that he won’t pursue a fifth season with the Irish football team and instead will play professional baseball for the Los Angeles Angels’ organization.

The Angels selected Hunter with in the 23rd round of last June’s baseball draft, with the son of former Major League outfielder Torii Hunter Sr., signing a contract with the team a couple of weeks later.

The 6-foot, 195-pound outfielder from Prosper, Texas, was ND’s second-leading receiver in 2016 (38 receptions for 521 yards and 3 TDs), despite missing a game because of a concussion and two others due to a knee injury.

“I came to Notre Dame to challenge myself in the classroom and on the field,” he tweeted on his Twitter account. “But in my time here I found this university offered a lot more than I would’ve ever imagined.

“The wisdom and knowledge that I’ve gained from my professors, the lifelong friendships, and the personal growth are only some of the things that have made my Notre Dame experience truly valuable.

“It’s hard to believe my time at Notre Dame has come to an end. This university has provided me with all the necessary tools, including an Information Technology Management degree, to transition smoothly into the next stage of my life.

“After long consideration and prayer, I’ve decided not to pursue a fifth year at the University of Notre Dame, but rather follow a dream of playing professional baseball with the Los Angeles Angels.

“I want to say thank you to my coaches, teammates, professors, classmates and fans for all the support throughout my career. I’m truly blessed to be a part of the Notre Dame family. Go Irish.”

Hunter’s football career was pocked with injuries, even before this season. He suffered a broken leg that was slow to heal in January of 2013 at a practice for a high school all-star game, five months before he enrolled at ND.

That wiped out his entire freshman season. He then tore his groin in August of 2014, which again delayed his collegiate debut.

He was considered a draftable prospect for football heading into 2016, but his durability issues may have suppressed his opportunities with NFL teams.

Football and injuries put baseball on the back burner. In his last full season of baseball, Hunter’s junior year at Prosper High, he batted .393 with six home runs, 27 RBIs and 13 stolen bases.

The Detroit Tigers selected him in the 36th round of the baseball draft in June of 2013, despite Hunter missing his high school senior season with the broken leg and despite his commitment to play football at ND.

After three years of no competitive baseball, Hunter joined the Irish baseball team in the spring of 2015. He worked his practices and games, both in 2015 and 2016, around ND’s spring football practices and workouts.

But his game action for the Irish baseball team was limited to 23 contests over those two seasons, with one career start. He batted .167 in an admittedly small sample size in his collegiate career and had seven strikeouts in 12 career at-bats, with nine runs scored and two stolen bases in two attempts.

Notre Dame wide receiver Torii Hunter Jr. shows off his speed on the baseball diamond. (Photo provided/Notre Dame Sports Information)