Running back Akeem Hunt played in all 13 games for Purdue last season but he only carried the football 42 times, meaning he had a little over three carries per game.
He finished the season with 335 yards rushing for an average of nearly eight yards per carry while backing up Akeem Shavers. Needless to say, those numbers didn’t satisfy Hunt, who aspires to be an every-down back.
With the slate wiped clean because of a coaching change, Hunt has been determined to make a good impression on new Purdue head coach Darrell Hazell with his speed, athleticism and toughness.
“I think he’s a marquee guy in this league because he does have some balance,” Hazell said. “He has some in-line quickness and top-end speed to take it the distance. He is showing some toughness. You saw him finish a couple of runs where he lowered his shoulder and got some of those hidden yards.”
Saturday’s Black and Gold Spring Football Game gave the junior another opportunity to prove he can handle the punishment that a running back has to absorb in the Big Ten. Hunt was even on the receiving end of some pregame taunting by members of the Gold Team, who all but dared him to run right at them.
“Yeah, I was motivated when they said that because I know what type of player I am,” said Hunt. “They were just trash talking to trash talk.”
Hunt made them swallow their words by rushing for 134 yards on 19 carries and scoring on a 15-yard run to help the Black to a 14-0 victory. He also caught two passes for nine yards.
“I felt I played great, but it was because of the mindset of the offensive line. They came into the game saying we were going to rush for over 300 yards — that’s what they told me — and I was right there with them,” said Hunt.
In a game in which the defenses dominated, that didn’t happen. The two teams only combined for 155 rushing yards. But the 19 carries by Hunt did show he has the stamina to be a featured back and not just a guy coming off the bench to run “sprint runs to the outside” or return kickoffs.
Hunt was one of the better kick returners in the Big Ten with 867 return yards on 39 attempts, including a 100-yarder at Ohio State.
So far, Hazell has liked what he’s seen from the rest of the players.
“We’re working hard and I think we’re understanding how to compete in some tough situations,” said Hazell. “Obviously, here’s a lot of work to be done before we open the season against Cincinnati, but I think we’re beginning to understand what it takes to be a better football team now.”