Missouri senior Jimmie Hunt has always had a nose for the end zone.
With two touchdowns apiece in wins against Toledo and Central Florida, that talent has never been more on display.
Hunt, a 6-foot, 205-pound wide receiver from Cahokia, Ill., has 11 catches on the season — four for touchdowns.
“It really doesn’t surprise me, because he’s a very talented guy,” Missouri coach Gary Pinkel said. “Jimmie’s really running his routes well, and it’s good to see him deliver. But he should be doing what he’s doing. He’s very capable.”
Hunt has nine touchdowns among 45 career receptions with the Tigers, but his touchdown-making prowess isn’t exactly new.
During his last two high school seasons, Hunt caught 71 passes — 24 were for touchdowns.
He had 12 receptions, including four touchdowns, in his first two seasons with the Tigers, but that game-changing explosiveness went AWOL last season.
Hunt caught 22 passes while splitting time with Bud Sasser at the H receiver and only found the end zone once.
“At Florida last year, I threw him a corner and he got caught down at the 10- or 15-yard line,” quarterback Maty Mauk said. “This year, he’s a completely different person. One, I think he’s catching the ball a lot better than last year. And two, he’s got that burst back.”
Hunt, who took a redshirt in 2010 after an early-season ankle injury derailed the start to his college career, had surgery to repair the acromioclavicular joint in his right shoulder after spring football his sophomore season.
“I picked up 27 pounds and I didn’t think it was going to be that hard to lose it, but it was,” said Hunt, who blames post-surgery medication and the inability to train during a 12-week recovery for his ballooning mass.
“That was my first time really taking pain meds for the most part, and I really didn’t know they slow down your metabolism,” Hunt said. “I didn’t really take great care of myself, and I picked up that weight.”
It made him sluggish.
Hunt didn’t have the burst he usually had. He wasn’t able to explode from breaks like he wanted and lacked his typical top-end speed.
“I went right into camp last year after the surgery and it was time to play, but this year I had the summer and worked hard,” Hunt said. “I ate right — ate a lot of salads and did a lot of abs.”
After playing at 220 pounds last season, Hunt feels like he’s back to his old self since shedding 15 pounds during the offseason.
“I’m a much better player,” Hunt said. “Last year, I weighed a little bit more. … That makes a big difference, especially when it comes to speed coming out of cuts and just being more explosive on the field.”
Missouri’s coaches have noticed the difference, so have Hunt’s fellow receivers and Mauk.
“He slimmed down, but the other main thing is he’s healthy,” Mauk said. “He got banged up a little, but he’s 100 percent and his body’s in good shape. He’s a guy that reminds me a little bit of T.J. (Moe). He knows how to get open and knows where the open areas are. He’s going to do his best to get there and really make a play on the football.”
It’s all been on display again early in 2014.
“We’re all seeing it right now,” Sasser said. “Jimmie’s pretty healthy at the moment. That’s all we needed from him. He’s that natural playmaker. We expect him to do the things he’s doing.”