The unique story of Cincinnati's Margus Hunt
APR 27, 2013 8:42a ET
CINCINNATI – Margus Hunt came to the United States of America to throw the discus and put the shot. The native of Estonia, a world junior champion in both events, wanted to learn from Dave Wollman, famed track and field coach at Southern Methodist University.
When SMU decided to close shop on its track and field program, Hunt was left in a lurch, facing the prospect of having to head back to the northern European country and away from Wollman.
Wollman suggested Hunt try out for the football team, even though Hunt had never played the game.
Four years later, Hunt finds himself heading to Cincinnati to play in the NFL.
The Bengals selected Hunt with the second of their two picks in the second round of the NFL Draft Friday night. While he’s still learning the game, the 6-8, 277-pound Hunt was too intriguing of a prospect for the Bengals to pass up even though defensive line is the most productive and deepest group on their roster.
“His story is unique,” said head coach Marvin Lewis. “This isn’t something he’s grown up with all of his life, so we have some more growth to do. We have a great record, Mike (Zimmer) and Jay (Hayes) have done a great job of really taking some guys and really pointing them in the right direction, some of the guys we have up front on the defensive line and getting the most out of them. We hope to do the same thing with Margus.”
Hunt, taken 53rd overall, was one of three picks for the Bengals on Day 2 of the draft. North Carolina running back Geovani Bernard, the son of Haitian immigrants, was selected with the fifth pick of the second round (No. 37 overall), while Georgia safety Shawn Williams was taken in the third round with pick No. 84 overall.
Bernard and Williams should contend for significant playing time right away. The Bengals won’t have to force Hunt into playing before he’s ready.
“That was part of the intrigue about him,” said Zimmer. “We knew we didn’t have to push him in there right now. We have a good group of defensive linemen. He can kind of learn from there, and we can look for ways to incorporate him into the defense as we get going, whether it be pass rush or an extra down lineman or something in certain situations. We’re not counting on him to come in and be the starter right away, but that was why we liked him. That’s not what we were looking for; we were looking for a guy that we can hit a home run on.”
The Bengals ranked sixth in overall defense last season and were eighth in points allowed. They set a franchise record with 51 sacks, led by defensive tackle Geno Atkins’ 12.5 sacks and 11.5 by defensive end Michael Johnson.
All of this is from a plan meant to keep Hunt in college in the U.S.
“When I got into football, it was just a way to stay at SMU, but I wanted to put that scholarship into full use and really learn the game of football,” said Hunt, in fluent English. “Then it really started happening. So, after my sophomore year I tried to really stay and focus on it.
“I’m really starting to enjoy the physicality and being able to dominate people on the line of scrimmage. It was a fun way to be out there.”
His decision disappointed some in Estonia. His gold medals at the 2006 World Junior Championships were the first ever won in the competition by an Estonian. He was the first athlete from anywhere in the world to ever win gold in both events in the competition.
“They were really ticked that I stopped doing track and field and then decided to play football,” said Hunt. “But it turned out for the best and I believe now they’ve really changed their minds and realize that this is really something extraordinary and can be really beneficial to the nation.”
Hunt had eight sacks for SMU last season as a senior, plus making 12 tackles behind the line of scrimmage. Five of his 11 quarterback pressures led directly to interceptions. In his four seasons for the Mustangs, Hunt blocked 17 kicks. At the scouting combine in February, Hunt bench pressed 225 pounds 38 times, had a 34.5-inch vertical jump and had a standing broad jump of more than 10 feet. His wingspan is 82.25 inches.
Hunt, 25, is older than the average NFL rookie. He spent time in the Estonian military before coming to the U.S.
“Football-wise, he’s about 12,” said Zimmer. “But he’s an exceptionally hard worker. You watch this guy on tape and he’s running all over the field. I don’t want to sound like he’s just learning the game, because he’s a good prospect, but he’s just learning more and more about it.”
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