UNIVERSITY PARK, Texas— For SMU’s Margus Hunt, every game is a chance to throw a block party.
Hunt, a senior defensive end, has blocked 16 field goals and PATs in his career, tying for second in NCAA history.
The NCAA record for blocked kicks is 19. With nine games left on the schedule, including Saturday’s rivalry game with No. 15 TCU, there’s a good chance Hunt could leave college as the greatest kick-blocker of all time.
“The way we look at it, they’re going to make kicks,” SMU special teams coach Frank Gansz Jr. said. “But that snap, that hold, everything has to be perfect. And if it’s not, we’re going to get it.”
Hunt arrived at SMU five years ago from Karksi-Nuia, Estonia as an elite discus thrower and shot putter. He came to work with SMU track coach Dave Wollman, a renowned throwing coach, but since SMU no longer has a men’s track and field program, playing football was a way to earn a scholarship and keep working on his throwing.
The only problem: Hunt had never played football before. He knew so little about the game, he wasn’t sure if blocking kicks was within the rules.
“I just went in there and I just did what the coaches told me to do,” Hunt said. “They told me to line up and just hit it, so that’s what I did. It was working out pretty good and ever since I’ve just been keeping up with it.”
Now, Hunt says he hasn’t worked on his throwing in a couple of years — his Olympic goals have taken a backseat to taking a shot at the NFL.
Standing 6-foot-8, 280 pounds, Hunt is an intimidating presence every time he lines up on field goal or PAT. His reputation is such that he can affect kicks without actually blocking them.
“The ones they miss, you know those people have been watching film and that kicker’s going, ‘Man!'” Gansz Jr. said. “It’s on their minds that they absolutely have to do a great job and it makes people have to spend time on it.”
Asked if he thinks he can block a kick every time, Hunt answers confidently: “Of course.”
Gansz Jr. said Hunt has the total package to block kicks: size, explosion off the ball and the ability to elevate quickly. And when Hunt puts his hands up, it’s not just blind luck when the ball hits it.
“He’s able to move his hand and get it into the kick plane,” Gansz Jr. said. “He has the ability to adjust very fast. His hand-eye coordinator is, I want to say, unique.”
Gansz Jr. is convinced Hunt will make an NFL roster, and not just as a special teams player. Hunt has 9.5 career sacks as a defensive end, but Gansz Jr. thinks Hunt could even have a future as an NFL tight end.
“With his size, he’s got big hands, he’s a big athlete. He’s going to have some value on somebody’s team,” Gansz Jr. said. “He’s an ascending player. He’s still raw in a lot of ways.”
Hunt has developed enough football savvy that he now helps teammates knock down kicks. In a game against Stephen F. Austin this season, Hunt noticed the field goal unit was schemed to specifically block him.
Hunt made an audible at the line of scrimmage and made himself a decoy, allowing teammate Aaron Davis to block the kick.
Hunt also blocked his ninth field goal in that game, breaking the NCAA career record for field goal blocks. A week later he knocked down his seventh extra point against Texas A&M to rank second in the NCAA record book in PAT blocks.
Since throwing the shot and discus at an elite level requires extreme emphasis on technique, transferring that attention to detail for football came naturally to Hunt.
“He’s a world-class athlete,” Gansz Jr. said. “When you’re a world-class athlete, you understand the techniques and the technicalities of the game.”
Hunt won gold medals in both the discus and shot put at the 2006 World Junior Championships, becoming the first junior thrower to pull off the double-gold.
He said he didn’t watch the Olympic throwing events on television last summer because they conflicted with football two-a-days.
“But I definitely kept up with it on line,” Hunt said. “I would have been close. I don’t know if I would have contended for the top three, but I definitely would have made the finals and been there.”
Hunt said he has no regrets about giving up his throwing career for a shot at the NFL.
“About six, seven years ago I would have said that definitely I’ll be in London this year and trying to get to the top three. Things change, life changed. I’m happy how it’s turned out. It’s a different opportunity for me,” Hunt said.
“I don’t know if the NFL is a dream. I never had that kind of dream as a kid growing up. I see it as an opportunity to better myself and try to take full advantage of the situation at hand.”
Hunt has already earned a couple of, uh, high honors for his football play. He was named the “No. 1 athletic freak in college football” by one online news service.
Over the summer, he won a local online poll as Dallas-Fort Worth’s top athlete, beating out the likes of Josh Hamilton of the Texas Rangers and Dez Bryant of the Dallas Cowboys.
“I got the entire country of Estonia voting and everyone at SMU,” Hunt said, chuckling. “When the poll came out, I thought it would be a great opportunity to get SMU as well on the Dallas map. It worked out pretty good.”
It’s also worked out pretty good that Hunt gave football a shot. The idea was birthed in the SMU weight room four years ago in a meeting with the late Frank Gansz Sr., who was the special teams coach then.
“We were talking about field goals and he (Gansz Sr.) already envisioned me blocking a bunch of kicks,” Hunt said.
That fall, Hunt blocked four field goals and three PATs and came within one block of the NCAA single-season record.
“It’s kind of odd how things work out,” Hunt said.