Ziniu Chen | Staff PhotographerFootball
Out of the Hunt: Sophomore quarterback regroups after losing starting job to Allen
Scott Shafer brought Terrel Hunt into his office and sat him down. Decision day had come and Hunt wasn’t picked as Syracuse’s starting quarterback.
Hunt and Shafer talked through tears, Hunt said, as they discussed the role he would inherit as a backup.
Twenty-six years earlier Shafer was on the other side of that table. The balding, fiery first-year head coach was then an even fierier sophomore quarterback for Division-III Baldwin-Wallace (Ohio) University. When his head coach Bob Packard told Shafer he wouldn’t start, Shafer hurled a trash can across the room.
That’s the story Shafer told Hunt, the redshirt sophomore, before informing him that he lost out to senior transfer Drew Allen for the Orange’s starting job.
“It was a real emotional thing,” Hunt said. “I worked really hard to come up short, but coach told me he’s got my back and as long as I keep doing what I’ve got to do, I’ll get out there. I’ve just got to keep waiting.”
For now Hunt is the backup. Allen, who transferred from Oklahoma April 12, started for SU in its season-opening 23-17 loss to Penn State on Saturday, completing just 16-of-37 passes for 189 yards and two interceptions. Hunt observed from the sidelines, hat and headset on for all four quarters as he watched a stagnant Orange offense stumble.
A fitting culmination for likely the roughest stretch of Hunt’s on-field career — which started when Shafer told him the coaches picked Allen and dragged on as Hunt had to keep up the façade that the battle was ongoing.
“I don’t like being fake, but for coach I told him I’d keep it on the hush,” Hunt said. “It was tough because you kept having to say you’re in the race when you already know that you’re not.”
And tougher yet may have been warming up at MetLife Stadium, 30 miles from his hometown of Rosedale, N.Y. The small contingent of friends and family that came to watch him play were limited to those pre-game drills.
“Terrel is a tough kid. He’s a really tough kid,” center Macky MacPherson said. “I know a lot of people who would break in a situation like he’s in. He worked his butt off in the spring, and he’s still working his butt off.
“He’s going to get his chance someday, and I can’t tell you when because I don’t even know, but when that day comes I know he’ll do great for himself.”
Just four months ago, Hunt was the front-runner for the Orange’s starting quarterback job. He dominated the first-team reps, earning the support of MacPherson and running back Jerome Smith, who lived across from Hunt at University Village.
Hunt would walk across the hall every night with questions, always wanting to learn more, Smith said. Even when the rumors Hunt had heard about Allen became reality, he was still certain it was his job to lose.
“After I started getting the first-team reps and I started working with the first team every day, that’s when I realized this was my team,” Hunt said. “Jerome and some other guys would tell me, ‘This is your team, take over now. This is when you separate yourself.’”
But once Allen showed up to training camp, it quickly became apparent that this was not Hunt’s team. He and Allen would be in even competition for the spot.
Quarterbacks coach Tim Lester said Day 5 of camp marked the start of the open competition as the two battled back and forth. One day Hunt would be better, the next Allen.
On Days 8 and 9, though, Allen separated himself during scrimmages in Fort Drum, N.Y. And soon after, Shafer announced SU had a “direction” it was going. That would prove to be Allen.
“It wasn’t so much that Terrel wasn’t emerging,” Shafer said, “it was just I felt like Drew had a little bit better handle on things at that point in time.”
Hunt said it felt like the competition was neck-and-neck when the decision was made. When Shafer told him the choice was based on experience more than anything else, initially, he was frustrated.
But sitting down with Shafer, Lester, Allen and senior quarterback Charley Loeb helped settle the situation, Lester said. Allen and Loeb were career backups until this season, with far more game time spent on the sidelines than Hunt.
While advancing as the second-string quarterback was tough for Hunt, Shafer was impressed with the way he regrouped.
Speaking at the last week of training camp, Shafer said he saw shades of himself in Hunt. Two and a half decades ago, he was in the same position.
Now he looks back on his garbage-speckled outburst fondly. It was a learning experience.
Maybe Hunt will experience the same emotional growth someday, too.
“He’s never hung his head, he’s never pouted,” Shafer said, “and all I’ve told him is that he’s one play away from getting on that field.”
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