SOUTH BEND, Ind. — Torii Hunter Jr.’s spring schedule is almost certainly more difficult than that of any other college student, save for athletes in a military academy.
The junior has to be at football workouts at 6:30 a.m., then goes to class later in the morning. He’s done by about two, then has to go to baseball practice or a baseball game. After baseball, he’ll study and get homework done.
“What is sleep?” Hunter laughed. “I have no idea what sleep is. You find time to take naps here and there, 30-minute naps. But I don’t really know what sleep is. I guess I’ll sleep when I die.”
Hunter, in his second year of playing both baseball and football, embraces his rigorous schedule. He admitted things got a little crazy last year — there were times where he felt like “everything was kind of caving in” — but is only taking 12 credit hours this semester. It’s much more manageable, even if sleep is scarce.
Hunter’s teammates, though, said he’s showed up to early workouts without the kind of lethargy one would expect from someone who’s working as hard — and resting as little — as the Prosper, Texas native.
“I don’t know if anyone else on the team could accomplish that,” tight end Durham Smythe said. “I have my hands more than full with just football and school and stuff. If you add in another sport, especially this time of year — it’s just a huge amount of respect I have for him.
“… He’s never a guy that’ll come in just dragging around,” Smythe added, “which is shocking to me.”
Hunter is Notre Dame’s leading returning receiver, but only caught 28 passes for 363 yards and two touchdowns last year (which is more indicative of the losses of Will Fuller and Chris Brown than anything else). He has the flexibility to play all three receiver positions, but will again primarily work out of the slot and can reasonably expect his targets to increase in 2016.
Coach Brian Kelly said Hunter hasn’t been missing from football activities due to his baseball schedule, and understands that he’ll take on a larger role in the Irish offense this fall.
“Torii is very realistic about the balance that needs to take place between football and baseball,” Kelly said. “He wants to continue to pursue both, and we're fine with it, but he knows he's in a very important part of this offense as well.”
On the diamond, Hunter picked up his first collegiate hit Feb. 21 against Santa Clara, flicking a changeup on the outer third of the plate into right field for a single. He’s primarily used off the bench as a pinch hitter/runner, and admitted it hasn’t been easy trying to establish himself in a larger role on Mik Aoki’s squad given his football duties.
That’s understandable, given Hunter came to Notre Dame on a football scholarship while those on the baseball side earned scholarships for that sport. But Kelly said having Hunter go from football practice to baseball games has helped add to his already-competitive edge.
“When you go into that forum where it’s in-season for (baseball), he carries that competitiveness into the first day of practice,” Kelly said. “He’s out there competing. So there’s a lot to be gained from playing baseball, but you have to be a special individual, especially at this level. I think the gains are competitiveness, discipline and the maturity that he shows and his ability to handle it.”
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Hunter’s name will always be connected with baseball, thanks to his father, Torii Hunter Sr., the former All Star and Gold Glove-winning outfielder for the Minnesota Twins, Los Angeles Angels and Detroit Tigers who retired after the 2015 season. Hunter cherished his time in major league clubhouses as a kid and got to know plenty of baseball stars, and when Notre Dame played Boston College at Fenway Park last year, one of those players — Boston Red Sox designated hitter David Ortiz — requested Hunter get his locker at the venerable baseball stadium.
But Hunter, too, is focused on making a name for himself at Notre Dame. Even if it’s difficult, from the rigorous schedule, the lack of sleep and roles on two teams is all part of it.
“It’s definitely worth it,” Hunter said. “It’s fun. If it doesn’t go anywhere else, I can do it for the story — I was one of the guys who was able to play both sports and graduate from Notre Dame. I’m having fun with it.”