Florida's big-game Hunter

Florida's Omar Hunter grabs the jersey of Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel during the second half at Kyle Field in College Station on Sept. 8.

Doug Finger/The Gainesville Sun
Published: Wednesday, October 10, 2012 at 11:15 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, October 10, 2012 at 11:15 a.m.

When defensive tackle Omar Hunter signed with Florida as a five-star recruit in 2008, then head coach Urban Meyer billed him as the Tim Tebow of the recruiting class.

At the time, Tebow had just become the first sophomore to win the Heisman Trophy and would go on to earn many more awards in four years at Florida.

Hunter's UF career has been much less decorated.

It took him four years and four games to receive his first accolade — SEC defensive lineman of the week after recording a career-high eight tackles in Florida's 38-0 win over Kentucky.

But Hunter isn't one to soak in the little glory he's had. Not as a true freshman or a redshirt senior.

His SEC honors?

"I don't care,” he said. “Not one bit."

His Tim Tebow label?

“I still am the Tim Tebow,” Hunter joked. “Nah, I didn't let that stuff get to me. … When I was in high school getting recruited, I had a great head coach and he never let me hear those kind of things. I was really focused on the football part of it.”

When he arrived at UF, however, that focus wasn't there.

“Coming in as a freshman, I didn't prepare myself the right way on the field or off the field,” Hunter said. “I guess coming in thinking that everything was going to be handed to me and not thinking I'm gonna have to work. Just being young and dumb, and seeing when I got here it was a different ball game.”

His lack of preparation caused him to be overweight and led to back issues. He earned a medical redshirt in 2008, but his back hasn't bothered him since.

“Not since I was fat and out of shape,” he said. “That's probably the last time I had that issue.”

Preparation is no longer an issue for him either. UF redshirt junior center Jonotthan Harrison said Hunter had the best practice week of his career during Florida's bye.

“I actually noticed a drastic change that week in his level of practice,” Harrison said. “For whatever reason, he was completely locked in and ready to work. I don't know what happened to him personally, but I just noticed he stepped it up to another notch we didn't know he had.”

Hunter has been through two head coaches, three defensive coordinators and two defensive line coaches during his time at UF, but it appears Will Muschamp, Dan Quinn and Bryan Young have finally found the key for him to flourish.

"It's been very hard just knowing all the different schemes,” Hunter said. “But I really love the coaches I have now. They've brought me a long way from the time I was a freshman to the time where I am now. It's not even close.

“With coach Quinn and coach Young, we were able to put in extra work, whether it's in the film room or after practice on the field. It's really been helping me out a lot.”

Quinn has said since the beginning of the season that Hunter is stronger and more powerful in his lower body. Now he's getting results because he's a better practice player.

“He's been really practicing well leading up to Kentucky and into the bye week and into the LSU week,” Quinn said. “All the things you're looking for in a defensive tackle, he's been doing at practice and it's carried over to the game. … I think he's got more pop off the ball and that's contributed to why he's having success this year.”

Against LSU, Hunter had a pass deflection and two tackles, including when he stopped Tiger tailback Terrence Magee for no gain on third-and-goal from Florida's 4-yard line to force a field goal at the end of the first half.

With more maturity and a renewed work ethic, Hunter said he's making the most of his opportunities.

“The more and more I grew up, things started changing for me and I really put the extra work in on and off the field,” Hunter said. “I think I'm starting to come around now."

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