The QB Hunter has been showing people how he got his nickname.
Phillip Hunt, the second-year defensive end with Winnipeg Blue Bombers, has been turning heads and forcing opposing quarterbacks to look over their shoulder through the first five games of the CFL season.
“It’s been great. The first game started off with a bang, I had three sacks and I’ve been consistent ever since,” said Hunt, who is tied for the league lead in sacks (six) with John Bowman of the Montreal Alouettes. “It’s been wonderful. I’m living the dream.”
Hunt, 24, didn’t set any individual goals going into the campaign, but now there’s plenty of internal competition among the Bombers’ front four to see who’ll record the most sacks.
“We have a great nucleus of players and we all provide a spark for each other,” said Hunt. “A lot of offences can’t key on just one person. That allows me to operate one-on-one a lot of the time.”
Despite an impressive collegiate career — he set the University of Houston record with 34 career sacks and was the 2008 Conference USA defensive player of the year — Hunt was overlooked in the NFL Draft and went to Cleveland Browns training camp as an outside linebacker before landing in Winnipeg last fall.
“I would never take nothing back, I learned a lot and in the position I’m in now, I couldn’t ask for more,” said Hunt. “I’m doing what I love to do, which is to rush the passer.”
Hunt grew up on the south side of Fort Worth, Texas and was raised by a single mother, Noni Roberts, who served as his inspiration.
“It’s everyday life in the inner city, where I’m from,” said Hunt. “A lot of guys don’t have a father around all the time. It’s nothing to sob over. We just took it in stride and as a family we just stuck together. My mom made most of the decisions and we followed her lead.
“She’s a strong women and took care of the household. She did two jobs in one and I have to commend her for that. Seeing her work so hard and struggling just to keep us fed and have clothes on our back made me want to work hard just so I can give her what she needs in life and make her happy.”
Sports were a way to keep Hunt off the streets and football was always his first love.
“All sports was a release, football, baseball, basketball, I even threw the shotput,” said Hunt. “In football, I really excelled. Anything to keep us off the streets, my mom encouraged us to do. A lot of guys I know that were good at football and could have made it are locked up (in jail) or not doing anything positive with their life.”
While some of his friends didn’t, Hunt found a way to keep on the straight and narrow.
“My mom didn’t have to get on me to get good grades, I was a pretty smart kid,” said Hunt, who graduated with a degree in kinesiology.
Upon his arrival in Winnipeg, Hunt had big shoes to fill, first in replacing Gavin Walls after he got hurt and then full-time after the popular veteran was traded to the Alouettes.
“Yeah, of course I felt pressure because he was the main guy here providing the pass rush for the Bombers,” said Hunt. “Even the fans were wondering ‘Who are these guys’ and ‘Where are we going to get our new pass rushers from’ and ‘How are we going to get pressure?’”
Those questions have been answered and Hunt has certainly caught the attention of new Blue Bombers defensive co-ordinator Kavis Reed.
“Phillip is a very explosive, very intelligent defensive end,” said Reed. “The kid is cat-quick, he has an understanding of the game. He sees everything. Although he’s down in the four-point (stance) most of the time, his vision is unbelievable.
“The other thing that makes him a very unique defensive end is that his change of direction is probably unrivaled in this league. The guy can be going one way and then change direction like a defensive back.”