Brandon Hunters trek from Carrboro High to the Appalachian State football field has been uphill.
The 6-foot-4, 280-pound junior will play for the first time in two years at 2 p.m. Saturday when the Mountaineers line up at Kidd Brewer Field for their annual spring football game.
Hunter is no star. He frankly admits that returning to the game after being away for two years has been more difficult than he expected. Adjusting to campus life and the academic requirements has been hard.
Four months ago he was an assistant coach at Carrboro High in the state 2A football championship game. Saturday, hell don pads and hit.
Hunters circuitous route to Boone includes a less-than-stellar academic career at Carrboro High and includes a year at Hargrave Military Academy in Chatham, Va., a season at Louisburg (Junior) College and two years at Alamance Community College, which doesnt play football.
Along the way, he simultaneously worked several part-time jobs to help support his family while he attended school.
What seemed like an impossibility for years has become a reality because of his perseverance. His father, James Hunter, who was a corrections officer working on death row for about 10 years, embedded in his son the philosophy of completing the things you start, of refusing to give up.
I am going to get my college degree, Hunter, 22, said this week. Ive started this and Im going to finish it. And I am going to do everything I can to help the football team. Ive loved Appalachian State for a long time.
Former Appalachian State coach Jerry Moore recruited Hunter in 2008 when he was a senior at Carrboro High. That was three schools ago for Hunter.
Looking back, I wish I had worked harder on my academics in high school, Hunter said. But I knew I wasnt going to college. That wasnt an option for me. But then at the end of my junior year, I understood that maybe football could get me to college.
Hunter had a brilliant senior year in fall 2008. He was a 6-foot-4, 245-pound all-conference offensive and defensive lineman and was selected as the leagues most outstanding lineman.
Moore was interested in Hunter as a player and as a person. He could see Hunter as a defensive lineman or as a linebacker.
He was with me every step of the way, Hunter said. He always treated me like I was one of his players, like family, even though I wasnt.
Hunter was not academically qualified to play at Appalachian so he enrolled at Hargrave, thinking he could meet NCAA academic requirements with one year at the prep school. He did well academically, he said, unaware the NCAA had changed the way academic requirements were computed. He did not know that it would be impossible for him to gain his eligibility by going to the post-graduate school.
Staying near home
While Hunter was at Hargrave, his parents health deteriorated. His father was diagnosed with prostate cancer, then colon cancer and then lost three toes because of diabetes-related complications. His mother, Anne, also had diabetes-related complications, which led to a loss of kidney function.
Hunter needed to stay close to home and enrolled at Louisburg, the only North Carolina junior college that fields a football team. He played in fall 2010 but left after a semester, he said, because he couldnt afford another semester and he needed to work to help with family bills.
Moore continued to stay in touch and so did Jason Tudryn, the Carrboro High coach. Tudryn asked Hunter to help coach the Jaguars.
I was stunned, Hunter said. He thought I could coach. He wanted me back.
Hunter had transferred to Carrboro as a junior and Tudryn sensed something special about him. Tudryn said he has coached for 18 years and has never seen a player with more perseverance.
Ive never come across anyone quite like him. He refuses to quit, Tudryn said.
So for the past two seasons, Hunter has been a Carrboro assistant, fitting games and practices around his classes at Alamance Community College and his jobs at Suttons Drug Store, a health club and a Chapel Hill pub.
He is tremendous with our players, Tudryn said. He can relate to them. He is a vocal, enthusiastic guy and he had a tremendous impact on our guys. Hed tell them his story and they would understand about adversity and perseverance.
Hunter finished his two-year degree last fall and he seemed close to fulfilling his dream of playing for Moore, who had encouraged Hunter every step of the way.
He never doubted me, Hunter said. When other people told me my dream was impossible, he told me to keep chasing it.
But Moore announced his retirement at the end of last season..
I was worried. Really, I was crushed. What if the new coach didnt want me. But Coach Moore told me it was going to work out, Hunter said.
A place for him at Appalachian
Tudryn said new Appalachian State coach Scott Satterfield did a remarkable thing by signing Hunter.
Brandon hasnt played in two years, Tudryn said. Coach Satterfield doesnt really know him. Coach Satterfield had no obligation to Hunter at all. Nobody would have said anything if coach Satterfield had told him there was no room.
But coach Satterfield told him there was a place for him at Appalachian.
Satterfield said he initially decided to bring in Hunter because honoring Moores commitments was the right thing to do.
But then I learned about Brandons story and I got to meet him, Satterfield said. Anybody who has that much perseverance, has overcome that much adversity and wants to play this badly needs to be on my football team.
Hunter enrolled at Appalachian in January and has been going through spring drills. He is learning to play offensive tackle and his fitness isnt as good as it should be. He is adapting to playing with and against bigger, faster, stronger and better players.
Ive got a lot of work to do, he said. I really do.
Satterfield said it usually takes 12 to 18 months for an offensive lineman to reach the point where he can contribute on the college level. Hunter has only two years of eligibility. Thats the math.
We sort of stuck our neck out, taking a kid that hasnt played football in two years, Satterfield said. But Brandon has an awful lot of want to. That counts for a lot.