Hunter making an impact with Eagles|[11/15/07]

Published 12:00 am Thursday, November 15, 2007

HATTIESBURG — Teammates and coaches alike feel Chico Hunter has a bright future at Southern Miss.

The former Warren Central standout saw his most extensive action of the season Saturday in the Golden Eagles’ 29-26 loss to Memphis.

Hunter, a 5-foot-11, 190-pound redshirt freshman safety, currently occupies the dime back role in Southern Miss’ six-defensive back alignment. Facing the pass-happy Tigers of Memphis, that meant he was on the field for nearly all of Memphis quarterback Martin Hankins’ 48 pass attempts. For the game, Hunter finished with three solo tackles, one sack and one forced fumble.

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“He is coming along. He’s going to be a great player here one day,” said Southern Miss defensive coordinator Jay Hopson, a fellow Warren Central alum. “We’re beginning to use him now in our nickle package. We can use him on the inside slot receiver and play him more as a linebacker. That’s why he’s lined up close to the line of scrimmage. He helps us put more speed out there.”

Unfortunately for the Golden Eagles, they were unable to stop Hankins from rallying the Tigers to the win. Hankins threw a pair of touchdown passes in the final four minutes and 21 seconds to erase a 26-14 Southern Miss lead. The loss left the Golden Eagles (5-5, 4-3) a win shy of being bowl eligible and in fourth place in C-USA’s Eastern Division. They’ll play again Saturday night at Texas-El Paso.

“This was very disappointing, especially considering how perfect the game plan was and the way we worked all week during practice,” Hunter said after the tough loss. It was Southern Miss’ third loss at home this season and all were C-USA games. “Overall this season has been a good experience for me. I know it’s going bad right now. We’ve done some good things. We just need to execute better. We have got to get teams off the field.”

Hunter and the Golden Eagle defense couldn’t get the Tigers off the field. Of particular annoyance, was Hankins’ fourth-and-10 conversion for a 12-yard TD pass that trimmed the deficit to 26-21 with 4:21 left. Hunter just missed breaking up the pass.

“I just misjudged my jump. I could’ve had it,” he said.

For the season, Hunter has made 15 tackles in nine games. He also has 1 1/2 sacks and the one forced fumble.

“At first, my role was just as another first-year player. But as the season went along, they wanted me out there to put speed on the field,” Hunter said.

Hunter’s athleticism and film study has already earned him respect from a veteran Southern Miss defense. Senior defensive back Brandon Sumrall, who returned an interception 78 yards to put the Golden Eagles up 26-14 with 10 minutes left, said Hunter is a joy to have out on the field.

“Chico has been a great help to the defense. He has a knack for getting to the ball. I wish we had 10 other Chicos on our team,” Sumrall said.

Hunter says the trust he’s picked up from the veterans has made this a good season.

“To get on the field as a freshman, they’ve been able to bring me along. I love all of them,” Hunter said. “I feel like I’ve been progressing. Now we’re just trying to win out and go to a bowl.”