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September 20, 2011At an early age, running back Akeem Hunt discovered he had the gift of speed.
Growing up in Covington, Ga., the freshman used to chase dogs in circles around his house.
"And I almost caught them," he said, laughing, "but I couldn't."
Hunt is now using that speed for something a little more productive, as a special teamer and backup running back for the Boilermakers. He made his offensive debut against Southeast Missouri State Saturday, rushing for 56 yards on six carries for two touchdowns, all in the fourth quarter.
The opportunity came about as the Boilermakers were rolling the Redhawks, with Purdue turning to Hunt and two other freshmen - Brandon Cottom and Raheem Mostert - for a majority of its offense.
Hunt's ability to race by opponents, although against a FCS opponent, was particularly impressive. His first touch was a 13-yard touchdown early in the third quarter; his third went for 27 yards; and his last was a three-yard score.
"It felt good," Hunt said, "knowing that I scored on the first carry of my college career, it felt nice."
Hunt's performance was a good reward for a player who's seemed to impress since early in training camp. A former three-star recruit, Hunt showed immediately he could run, with Coach Danny Hope at one point saying that no one could catch him in practice.
Hunt, whose mom was a standout high school track star, says he ran a 4.33 in high school, but hasn't been timed in the 40-yard dash since he arrived at Purdue mid-summer.
"I did good in camp," he said. "I had to go hard because there's so much competition and everybody wants a spot. I think that's where they started to notice me because I kept going hard in special teams. That's why I got placed on special teams at first, and I just kept going hard at running back. I just have to keep doing what I'm doing in practice."
Hunt says he's made tremendous progress as a football player since he arrived at Purdue. At Newton High School, he relied basically on his speed to beat the opponent.
"I didn't know anything about football," he said. "So they just told me to run with the ball."
Although he's made progress, Hunt says he understands that carries the rest of the season might be hard to come by. In Ralph Bolden and Akeem Shavers, the Boilermakers have two veterans who are likely to get a bulk of the carries; and a bulk of the leftovers might go to fullbacks Jared Crank, Reggie Pegram and Cottom.
But Hunt says he's happy to contribute as much as he can, particularly considering he came to Purdue expecting to redshirt. At only 173 pounds on his 5-foot-11 frame, Hunt thought he'd be considered too small to contribute. But the summer helped him get the weight to 182.
"To be honest, when I came in I thought I was going to redshirt because of my size," he said. "They said I needed to get bigger. But in my mindset, I play like I'm 205. So if I just keep my heart into it, and work hard in the weight room, I know I'll get a chance."
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