Tech center Freddie Burden has tangled with Hunt-Days this spring as he has lined up at guard because of a thumb injury that has prevented him from snapping. He proclaimed that Hunt-Days will be a superstar. Byerly raved about Hunt-Days’ agility for his size, his ability to make offensive linemen miss as he penetrates the line of scrimmage and the violent quickness of his hands in fending off blocks.
“Just a great athlete,” Byerly said.
Independent of each other, both Byerly and Burden drew an almost preposterous comparison to Hunt-Days — former Pittsburgh defensive tackle Aaron Donald, who in 2013 won the Bronko Nagurski Trophy (best defensive player in the country), the Bednarik Award (best defensive player in the country), the Outland Trophy (best interior lineman) and the Lombardi Award (best lineman or linebacker) and last season was the NFL defensive rookie of the year.
“He’s that good,” Burden said. “He’s that good of an athlete.”
To make good on that ability, Hunt-Days does have an obstacle ahead of him. He became ineligible because he fell behind an NCAA standard that requires athletes to have completed 40, 60 and 80 percent of their course requirements in their degree programs going into their third, fourth and fifth years, respectively, on campus. Hunt-Days was going into his fourth (redshirt junior) year last year, slated to start at defensive end, when he tripped up.
Teammates and coaches have said that the ineligibility caused him to become more accountable in his schoolwork.
On Wednesday, Johnson said of his progress toward eligibility that, “I think he’ll be OK. We’ll see. We’ll know at the end of the semester.”
Further, teammates have said that having to sit out the season has made him more appreciative of the opportunity he has to play football. Hunt-Days, whom the team has not made available for interviews, undoubtedly is ready to resume a career in which he started 21 games as a freshman and sophomore, making 129 tackles in 27 games as a linebacker. After playing around 250 pounds as a sophomore in 2013, Hunt-Days has added roughly 35 pounds to his 6-foot-3 frame in his move to the line.
“I really enjoy playing with him because he brings the energy,” defensive end KeShun Freeman said. “If one of us gets down or whatever, he’s like, Come on, pick it back up.”
Defensive coordinator Ted Roof has appreciated the consistency that Hunt-Days has shown this spring, an indicator of maturity and inner drive. It is among the most treasured qualities a player can offer Roof.
“Because if we know what we can expect, we can game plan, we can put people in places, that kind of stuff,” Roof said.
The potential pairing of two-year starter Adam Gotsis (second-team All-ACC last season) and Hunt-Days in the middle is a tantalizing one. He would be a compelling addition to a defense that returns eight starters, but needs defensive line help.
In January, former Tech guard Shaquille Mason, who said his scout-team sparring partner was the best defensive lineman he faced all last season and helped him become an All-American, was asked about Tech’s interior with Hunt-Days.
“If him and Adam are in the middle, there’s no inside runs,” Mason said.
The season opener is still 4 1/2 months away, but it is indeed a reason to fear.