On a day he might otherwise be fighting for extra yards, Chiefs running back Kareem Hunt was going the extra mile for kids.
The team’s open week provided Hunt an opportunity to help youth football players buy equipment at Academy Sports and Outdoors in Overland Park on Sunday. He went from there to work a youth football camp.
“I just like having fun with the kids and being able to teach them some of the things I know and I went through as a kid, some things I wish I’d have known before,” Hunt said. “A lot of people helped me out.”
Those people contributed in shaping Hunt, off to a fast start as a rookie with a team-leading 800 rushing yards for a Chiefs team that stands 6-3 and leads the AFC West.
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Although Hunt and the Chiefs’ running game have been slowed over the last month, he remains a top candidate for rookie of the year honors, which may seem surprising for a third-round draft pick from Toledo. But not to a former coach who had a hand in helping prepare Hunt for this level.
“I remember his first carry in his first practice,” said Louis Ayeni, an Iowa State assistant who was Hunt’s primary recruiter and his running backs coach at Toledo. “An inside zone play. It was effortless, natural. You could just see this guy was special.”
Hunt was outstanding at Toledo, finishing with 4,945 rushing yards and 44 touchdowns on the ground. He was a two-time All-Mid-American Conference selection.
Still, there were doubts. There were questions about his speed and his level of competition. But Hunt had dealt with skeptics throughout his playing days. In high school, he played linebacker and not running back early on. It took an injury for him to make the move.
But Ayeni was never unsure after seeing Hunt play. Toledo head coach Matt Campbell had sent him to the Cleveland area to check out a handful of running backs. Ayeni became enamored with Hunt for several reasons.
“I love that he played three sports,” Ayeni said. “He was great at track but only so-so in basketball.”
But even Hunt’s hoops days were important. Ayeni wanted to see how a star in other sports would handle not always being in the limelight.
“To see him not be the guy and be a great teammate and hard worker, that meant a lot,” Ayeni said. “He wasn’t the focal point but worked as hard as anyone out there.”
As Ayeni developed a recruiting relationship with Hunt, the young coach was concerned he’d have fierce competition. Then he became worried when other coaches didn’t seem interested.
“You’d be on the road and kind of take the pulse of everybody,” Ayeni said. “And I started hearing he wasn’t big enough or fast enough. Here was this guy as good as anybody I’d seen and I just came to the conclusion these other guys hadn’t done their homework.”
The recruiting picked up the end and Hunt received offers from Iowa, Pittsburgh and Minnesota, but he kept his word and signed with Toledo.
As a freshman, he hardly got on the field in five games. Toledo had an all-MAC back in David Fluellen. Finally, Ayeni decided to give Hunt more than a handful of snaps and played both backs against Navy. Fluellen rushed for 160 yards, Hunt had 127 and the Rockets won in double overtime.
An injury sidelined Fluellen late in the season and Hunt took over the position for good. One of Hunt’s better games that freshman season was a 186-yard effort against Buffalo and Khalil Mack.
Ayeni joined Iowa State’s staff after Hunt’s freshman season. Campbell was hired in Ames as the head coach two years later, and photographs of Hunt in action for the Chiefs and the Sports Illustrated cover of Hunt after setting the record of total yards in a NFL debut against the Patriots are around the Cyclones’ football office.
Suffice to say, Hunt is a favorite at Iowa State, and Ayeni and Hunt will talk after games.
“He’s one of those athletes who is doing what he was born to do, playing running back in the NFL,” Ayeni said. “His love for football and his passion to be the best at it makes him really special and we’re just on the cusp of it.”