Missouri coach Gary Pinkel called Tyler Hunt on Aug. 22 and answered a prayer.
Hunt is a junior walk-on running back from Hunstville, Mo. — at least, he was until Pinkel called to say he was being put on scholarship.
Hunt’s first thought?
“Sweet, now I don’t have to worry about buying groceries,” he said. “Now, I don’t have to worry about my rent that I was worried about for the coming semester. … It’s going to be covered, so that relieves a lot of stress off my shoulders.”
Hunt’s next phone call, to his parents Ron and Carol, was almost as exciting.
“Hearing them scream with joy, that was probably one of the best feelings I’ve had,” he said.
Even the Tigers’ other running backs welcomed the news.
“Tyler’s always been a special a guy, the guy behind the scenes who works his tail off,” senior Marcus Murphy said. “He’s one of the best guys in the weight room and one of the strongest, fastest guys on the field. It’s good to see him come out and earn his scholarship.”
Pinkel went on to tell Hunt that it was a one-year scholarship, saying “you’ve got to work for it for next year, too. It’s not guaranteed every year, which I knew. But it was a great phone call,” Hunt said.
And, it was only the beginning.
Eight days later, Hunt, who appeared in 13 games last season primarily on Missouri’s kickoff coverage unit, reached another milestone when he plowed ahead for runs of 5 and 4 yards on back-to-back snaps Saturday in the fourth quarter of a 38-18 win against South Dakota State.
“I’ve hadn’t run the football in an actual game since my high school days, so it was nice to get the ball back in my hands,” Hunt said. “Last year, playing — especially in the big atmospheres we played in last year, like the SEC Championship Game and the Cotton Bowl — really helped. Playing at Georgia too, those crowds were definitely crazy. But getting a couple carries here in front of the home crowd, it was special. It hasn’t completely sunk in.”
Perhaps no Tigers player was riding higher in the postgame locker room than Hunt.
“He was very happy,” Missouri running backs coach Brian Jones said. “I’ll say that. It’s fulfilling to be on the sidelines and see a young man who has worked as hard as he has and endured what he’s gone through, in terms of injuries and what have you, to be out there playing for us. It’s a walk-on’s dream, you might say, to be where he is now, so I’m just happy for him.”
Pinkel said Hunt had earned a scholarship before it became apparent that sophomore Morgan Steward’s hip injury was more serious than initially thought.
Hunt provides depth along with true freshman Ish Witter behind co-starters Russell Hansbrough and Marcus Murphy, who also lines up at slot receiver occasionally.
“He can help our football team win,” Pinkel said of Hunt.
And, he almost never made it to Missouri.
As a senior at Westran High School, Hunt considered playing baseball. He said he had a full-ride waiting at Meramec Community College in St. Louis, but football’s tug was too powerful.
“Football has always been my passion,” Hunt said. “My dad played semi-pro, so I grew up watching him play ever since I was a little kid. It’s definitely been my dream to come here and play. … Being a local kid, you definitely grow up watching Mizzou play and wanting to play at this level.”