The University of Toledo's early interest in running back Kareem Hunt proved bigger than anyone expected, including Hunt and the coaching staff.
Toledo began pursuing Hunt while he was a sophomore at South High School in Willoughby, Ohio, with the expectation that Hunt would play some as a freshman at UT. The year played out so that the Rockets not only played Hunt, but needed him.
“I knew Kareem would play for us last year,” Rockets coach Matt Campbell said. “I didn't know how much.”
Hunt played so well and so consistently in practice that Campbell said it was “no question” that the Rockets needed to find some way to give the ball to him, so, beginning Oct. 19 against Navy, Hunt and former starter David Fluellen began alternating series as the No. 1 back. It turned out to be a perfectly timed decision: Fluellen went down with a back injury during the game, and Hunt stepped in seamlessly, rushing for 127 yards on 15 carries and scoring twice in UT's double-overtime win.
Despite playing sparingly during the first six weeks, Hunt racked up five 100-yard games and finished ninth in the Mid-American Conference in rushing.
“We didn't know what the Fluellen situation was, but Kareem – thank goodness for him,” Campbell said. “All the credit goes to him. He had prepared like he was the starter up until that point with limited carries.”
With Fluellen gone, Hunt wants to build on a breakout freshman season.
“My confidence boosted really high, and every day I just kept getting stronger,” Hunt said.
“My confidence kept getting higher, and I kept getting better, and I felt like my team believed it me. [Last year] helped a lot.”
Hunt said he lost eight pounds in the offseason and feels even quicker than last season.
“It was a hard offseason. I got pushed really hard so I can come back and be stronger than I was last year,” Hunt said.
“So I'm definitely trying to get better during this fall camp.”
NORRILS UPDATE: Senior cornerback Cheatham Norrils has not been cleared to play after a serious viral infection hospitalized him for a week and a half in July.
He can watch film but not run or lift weights.
Campbell said last week the team could redshirt Norrils, who lost more than 15 pounds during the episode.
STAYING HEALTHY: The Rockets have stayed mostly healthy through a week and a half of camp.
Offensive linemen Greg Mancz and Jeff Myers still are limited after shoulder surgeries, but both are expected to be at full strength for the Aug. 30 opener. Cornerback Cameron Cole and tight end Craig Runyon suffered ankle sprains in camp, though Campbell said both should return to practice fairly soon. Other than a few dings most of the roster is at full health, Campbell said.