COLUMBIA — This is not how Jimmie Hunt wanted to start the final week of fall camp: sporting the dreaded red jersey.
With his senior season set to begin, the top-of-the-depth-chart Missouri wide receiver is once again battling an injury.
Hunt has been hampered by a hamstring injury since Monday, and he's listed as day-to-day heading into Thursday's scrimmage. It's a less-than-ideal situation for a player looking to regain the form he flashed in 2012.
Throughout camp, Hunt's teammates and coaches have commented on his increased quickness and confidence, and the pounds he's dropped as well. The Tigers might benefit from a breakout season from Hunt, especially as a young, thin receiving corps struggles to remain healthy in the final week of fall camp.
After the second practiceAug. 5, Hunt talked about the things he and his fellow wide receivers were working on: timing with the quarterbacks and route running, for example.
But then he changed the subject.
"I plan on just getting back to the most explosive person I can be," Hunt said. "Like I was two years ago."
Hunt had just 11 receptions that year, but he tallied 199 receiving yards, averaged 18.1 yards per catch and snagged three touchdowns. He also returned a kickoff 87 yards for a touchdown. Not bad for a third-string slot receiver on Missouri's 2012 depth chart.
The following season, Hunt was once again buried on the depth chart, vying for playing time among a talented stable of wide receivers. He finished fifth on the team in total receiving yards in 2013, and averaged 11.5 yards per catch with 22 receptions for 253 yards and one touchdown. But he was playing more slowly and heavily than he would have liked because of a preseason ankle injury and ensuing surgery.
"Last year, I was coming off injury, picked up 22 pounds," Hunt said Aug. 5. "I was playing at 220. I'm back down to 205, and I'm feeling comfortable with myself again and plan on having a great year."
During fall camp, Hunt's teammates and coaches have noticed the changes.
Fellow receiver and team captain Bud Sasser said a slimmer Hunt is "moving faster and getting there (to the end of his routes) quicker."
"He's feeling really good in his confidence, his routes, his speed and his power," Sasser said.
Senior wide receiver Darius White used one word to describe Hunt's fall camp form: "lightning."
"I really believe, from me watching film ... he's back to that guy," White said. "Making people miss, finishing up with the play."
Missouri receivers coach Pat Washington said he's seeing an improved Hunt.
"He's looking quicker, he's looking more athletic," Washington said. "He's changing direction a whole lot better. ... He was carrying a couple of ankle weights (extra pounds) around last year. So right now I think he's quicker, he's crisper and more importantly, he has more confidence."
Aside from Hunt, seniors Sasser, White and uber-role-player Marcus Murphy are the only returning players who caught touchdown passes last season.
And while coach Gary Pinkel spoke highly of his freshmen receivers after Saturday's scrimmage, Missouri would like to have its veterans starting the season healthy, especially considering recent injuries to wide receivers Gavin Otte (high ankle sprain) and Eric Laurent (broken finger).
Hunt's most recent ailment is cruelly ironic considering his comments on Aug. 8 after five days of camp. He talked about being a veteran, being accustomed to the grind of camp. And he talked about mentoring the younger players, making sure they were visiting the hot tubs and ice baths and were stretching.
"Just make sure you get your regeneration (recovery treatments) in," Hunt said. "It'll take you a long way.
"Especially make sure you don't get any injuries."