COLUMBIA — If football were a college class, it would be a lot like calculus. You can learn a lot by watching other people work through complicated problems, but the true test comes when you must complete them yourself.
Standing on the sidelines, Jimmie Hunt realized the dual aspects of his football education: observation and experience. Until early this week, a heavy boot weighed down his left leg, anchoring the once-speedy wide receiver to the ground. Although Hunt learned a lot from watching and listening to his teammates while on the sidelines, coach Gary Pinkel says that the freshman will most likely redshirt.
“He just missed all the detailed work that you get,” Pinkel said.
The observation part of his education simply was not enough.
Hunt, who returned to a limited practice Tuesday wearing a red pullover, spent most of his time on the sidelines observing the starters at his position, especially T.J. Moe. He lists Moe and Jerrell Jackson as his “big brothers,” and each taught Hunt a different lesson while he was injured.
Watching Moe grab a first-string role, Hunt learned how hard he’d have to work, especially in practice..
Jackson was more hands-on with Hunt; he, too, is sidelined with an injury.
Jackson has been pointing out details about the wide receiver position to Hunt, especially the specifics of the plays.
“He’s been paying attention, and I’ve been showing him how to run that position while we’ve been out together,” Jackson said. “He’ll be able to adapt well.”
The impact of his time on the sidelines is not lost on Hunt.
“It was very educational,” Hunt said. “I learned a lot of stuff I didn’t know in high school. I mean, the upperclassmen, they push me. Jerrell Jackson and T.J. Moe are my big brothers, so they showed me a lot when it came to learning the ropes.”
When Hunt does return to full practices, adapting to the team’s style of play will be key because, for all of the education Hunt has received from the sidelines, he’s still lacking the on-field experience that the coaches need to see.
“It’s just sad that he got hurt,” Jackson said. “He didn’t get to really prove himself yet.”
Proving himself is another remaining element to Hunt’s education. Although Pinkel said that he was doing a great job before the injury and might have seen playing time had he remained healthy, the weeks Hunt missed have left him without enough of the hands-on learning that he needs in order to play.
“With the lower body type of injury, ankle sprain in his case, you can catch footballs, but there’s nothing else you can do,” receivers coach Andy Hill said. “Mentally, you can go through the reps and catch footballs.”
That’s simply not enough, and Hunt knows it. He said that just two or three days off the field can cause a football player to feel out of shape, and his limited return to practice this week has not been easy.
“He’s hopping around,” Hill said. “He’s not full speed yet, but he’s working on it.”
Even if Hunt did value the education he got while on the sidelines, not being able to get into practices and scrimmages has been difficult for him. Now, as he returns to practice, he understands why the coaches put so much of an emphasis on experience and learning the fundamentals.