sports   |   football

After growing up in Louisiana, Michael Hunter has made a second home at IU



spiuvsminn03web

Sophomore cornerback Michael Hunter looks over the line of scrimmage during IU's homecoming game against Minnesota on Saturday at Memorial Stadium. IDS file photo and Ben Mikesell Buy Photos

At home, Michael Hunter is “brother.”

Home is his family’s one-story house, sitting at the end of a cul-de-sac in a neighborhood of Monroe, La.

When Michael walks through the front door, he’s greeted by his three younger sisters, Jasmine, Maya and Jamie, and parents, Jackie and Michael Sr.

Michael is the oldest of four and the only boy. His sisters look up to him for everything. Six-year-old Jamie might not listen to her parents, but she’ll listen to brother.

She wants to play football just like Michael.

“I call him baby boy ?because he’s the only boy,” Jackie said. “They call him brother because he’s the only brother.”

Michael rarely gets home these days. He’s spent the majority of the past four years in Bloomington, 683 miles from home.

The redshirt junior cornerback chose IU partly because it was something new, something different. He wanted to see what was out in the world, and in the process, he found a second home.

“The first year I was like, ‘I want to go home,’ but I got over that,” Hunter said. “I guess that’s just natural, being 11 hours from home and just missing people.”

***

Three things were required in the Hunter household.

“You gotta go to church, you gotta go to school and he had to play some type of athletics,” Michael Sr. said.

Like most kids growing up in Louisiana, Hunter was a big LSU fan.

Hunter was only vaguely familiar with the Big Ten as a kid. Ohio State and Michigan would come on TV occasionally, but it was mostly teams from the Southeastern and Sunbelt conferences that he’d watch.

Knowing Michael might want to attend LSU one day, Michael Sr. often took his son to games.

Hunter was always involved in sports. He played basketball and ran track at West Monroe High School.

Hunter didn’t start playing football until junior high and didn’t become a cornerback until sophomore year of high school.

He fell in love with defense. He loved the spotlight.

“You’re on an island out there,” Hunter said. “They either love you or they hate you at the end of the day. You just have to keep a sound mind.”

Hunter had several family members who played college sports, including his dad, who played basketball at Grambling State University. He’s the head coach at West Monroe High. Michael Sr. was also his son’s coach. He was at every game, there for every big moment.

That changed when IU called.

***

Just five miles down the road from West Monroe High, now-IU cornerbacks Coach Brandon Shelby was coaching at the University of Louisiana-Monroe.

Shelby had seen the corner play during his senior year, and Shelby wanted him at ULM. But he wasn’t the only one interested in Hunter.

“When he made his mind up to come to IU, Mike had probably 60 offers to go to college,” Michael Sr. said.

IU was the only visit Michael’s parents didn’t make with him. While all of his friends went to play at other schools down south, Michael had a different plan.

He wanted to take a chance and leave home.

“If I hate it, that’s four years of my life,” Hunter said. “So I wanted to find what else is out in the world.”

Jackie said she was a little bit surprised by Michael’s decision. Michael Sr. hoped his son would stay close to home, maybe go to Arkansas or ?Tennessee State.

Hunter’s cousin was at TCU, and his best friend goes to Louisiana-Monroe.

But both Jackie and Michael Sr. supported whatever he chose. They trusted him.

“That’s kind of him,” Jackie said. “He had a plan A, B and C, and if A didn’t work and B didn’t work and C didn’t work, he always had a plan.”

Even after Hunter committed to IU, Shelby kept ?calling.

Hunter didn’t answer or return Shelby’s calls. He didn’t want to be swayed in another direction; he had made up his mind. But Shelby would call or stop by Michael Sr.’s office every day.

“I said, ‘Mike, call him back and see what he wants,’” Jackie said. “When he did, (Shelby) said something like, ‘You thought you were going to get away from me, huh?’”

Shelby just wanted to tell Michael he’d gotten a job to coach at IU.

He would be Hunter’s coach after all.

***

Four years later, Shelby can sum up Hunter in one word. He’s dependable — on and off the field.

“If I was going out of town, and I needed one of these knuckleheads to go lock my house up, I would give him the key,” Shelby said.

Shelby compared Hunter to a Cadillac.

He won’t have all the bells and whistles, Shelby said, but you know he’s going to be there and he’s going to do things right.

“He ain’t a Corvette,” Shelby said. “He ain’t a Hyundai Sonata, but he’s a good ol’ Cadillac, nice and steady, getting you down the road.”

On the field, Hunter is rarely in the wrong spot, ?Shelby said.

As a cornerback, you have to process the situation quickly, make a decision and act on it. Shelby said Hunter’s sharp mind helps him do that.

Hunter earned a 4.0 GPA in high school. After he graduates, he said he hopes to go to occupational therapy school or go into athletic ?administration.

He’s smart and respectful, Shelby said. Hunter’s the kind of guy he’d let his daughter marry.

“If I’m blessed enough to have children, I want my boy to be like Mike Hunter,” Shelby said. “That’s the God’s honest truth.”

***

A lot changed for Hunter after moving away from home, but his faith remained constant.

Every game day, Hunter wears a white T-shirt under his uniform. It says, “God First, Bro.” It’s so worn out by now you can barely read it.

Before the game, Hunter listens to a mix of gospel music and rap. He admits it’s a strange combination, but it works for him.

If he doesn’t get a chance to text his parents, they’ll text him, “praying for you, have a good game.”

Since leaving home for Bloomington four years ago, Hunter hasn’t strayed from the values he was taught in Monroe. That’s what Jackie said makes her most proud.

Michael was raised in a religious home. His grandfather was a preacher. So is his uncle, whose church the Hunters ?attend every Sunday morning.

Hunter has learned to stay positive in difficult situations. Someone’s always worse off than you are, he said.

“That’s how he thinks about a lot of things,” Jackie said. “What would my granddaddy do, or what would my uncle be proud of me for not doing? That’s helped him make a lot of responsible ?decisions.”

He said at first it was tough. During freshman year, he often wanted to go home. But it’s not like that anymore.

“I think it paid off,” he said. “I’ve become a better person. I’m just blessed to have the opportunity to play college football at Indiana.”

***

Hunter is lucky if he gets back to Monroe twice a year.

When he arrives home in December, one of his first stops is Raising Cane’s. The popular fast food restaurant offers chicken fingers as its only main course, but it’s Hunter’s favorite meal.

Raising Cane’s is unfamiliar to most Midwesterners. Its closest location to Bloomington is in Columbus, Ohio. The first Raising Cane’s opened at the North Gates of the LSU campus, and the chain remains predominantly in the southern states.

In junior high, Hunter would visit three or four times a week.

“I just love the sauce for some reason,” Hunter said. “It’s literally the same thing every day, chicken fingers and fries.”

But most of all, it reminds him of home. And back in Monroe, before Raising Cane’s, that’s where Hunter goes.

Little has changed. For the short time he’s in town, he’ll visit his grandparents every day.

He’ll see friends who also went on to play college football. Around the house, his little sisters will be all over him.

And Jamie still wants to be just like her older brother.

“To this day, you ask her where she’s going to school,” Jackie said. “She says, ‘I’m going to Indiana, where brother went.’”

Like what you're reading? Support independent, award-winning college journalism on this site. Donate here.

More in Sports



Comments powered by Disqus