SOUTH BEND, Ind. — Torii Hunter Jr. spent plenty of his formative years in major league clubhouses and took note of how his All-Star, Gold Glove-winning father carried himself as a veteran.
Whatever the younger Hunter picked up in Minnesota and Los Angeles now applies to his role this fall, as the redshirt junior wide receiver was named one of four Notre Dame team captains for the 2016 season.
“I take out a lot of the stuff that (his father, Torii Hunter Sr., has) done with a lot ball clubs, and him being an older guy in a lot of younger clubhouses,” Hunter said. “He’s always been that fun guy, trying to make things fun for the younger guys and trying not to stress them out, showing them that it’s the same game that they’ve been playing since they were kids.
“That’s one of the biggest things I try to stress is keep it fun, joke around but also go out there and get work done. I think that’s one of the biggest things my dad does well is keep it chill, keep it loose and make guys go out there and play.”
Hunter added he learned a lot about leadership from Notre Dame’s 2015 captains — offensive lineman Nick Martin, defensive tackle Sheldon Day, linebackers Joe Schmidt and Jaylon Smith and defensive back Matthias Farley — that he’ll apply to this season. Hunter is Notre Dame’s leading returning receiver but only has 35 career catches, and actually has fewer career starts at receiver (one) than linebacker and fellow captain James Onwualu, who started four games as a freshman receiver in 2013 before being moved to defense in 2014.
“(Hunter is) a veteran of our team, hasn’t played maybe as much but he’s played big roles for us,” coach Brian Kelly said. “He’s a guy that I think this year will be counted on to do quite a bit, one of our only returning skill players on the offensive side at the wide receiver position. But again, a guy that walks the walk and talks the talk and backs it up both on and off the field and will be a great mentor to a lot of young receivers.”
Earning a captain role is another high note in a summer of them for the 6-foot, 195-pound Hunter. He was drafted in the 23rd round by the Los Angeles Angels (for whom his father played for five seasons) and got engaged, too.
Hunter will be counted on as a go-to target for both DeShone Kizer and Malik Zaire this fall as well as shouldering a leadership role. While he said he wasn’t expecting to be named a captain, he said it’s a “tremendous honor” and is a job he’s eagerly anticipating this fall.
“I always knew that I had leadership qualities and I knew that I possessed those qualities,” Hunter said. “But to be named a captain is an honor and a blessing to be able to lead these guys and be that face and that medium between players and coaches. It’s definitely going to be a fun ride going forward. It’s something I didn’t expect and I’m looking forward to it.”