December 26, 2013 10:18:00 AM
MACON -- Eric Hunt plays football for one reason.
"I play because it's fun," Hunt said. "I know that sounds like what everybody says, but I get a lot out of it."
The Noxubee County High School senior linebacker/running back had fun in a number of the roles this season. Even though he didn't go out with back-to-back state titles, Hunt showcased his versatility in multiple ways to earn recognition as The Dispatch's Large Schools Defensive Player of the Year.
"Football always teaches me you have to work within a team, and that's exactly what we did at Noxubee County," Hunt said.
Hunt led the Tigers in tackles (68) and sacks (11), but Noxubee County coach Tyrone Shorter said Hunt's quiet leadership was valued more than anything.
"He loved coming to practice, and I never had to worry about his effort level," Shorter said. "He seemingly never spoke up and was the just the best lead-by-example guy I coached this year."
In a season-opening loss to Starkville, Hunt showed his ability to be all over the field in a first-half turnover. Hunt intercepted a pass by Princeton Jones and weaved his way through a couple tackles before being taken down inside the 10-yard-line just before the halftime horn.
Listed at a little more than 200 pounds, Hunt is another Tiger who seemingly has been ignored by college coaches. He has received calls from Alcorn State and Jackson State, but he hasn't received any official offers from Division I schools. Shorter believes colleges may want Hunt at running back. He said Hunt's athleticism and versatility were on display on that interception against Starkville.
"I just can't worry about that, so I don't," Hunt said. "All I do is go out and play to have fun. I don't play football in order to impress college scouts or whatever."
In a season in which Noxubee County (9-4) struggled due to inexperience on offense, Hunt made a simple statement to his teammates. With the Tigers 2-3 entering region play, Hunt told his defensive teammates it was going to be on them to provide the spark.
"I told them, 'If the other team doesn't score, they can't win,' " Hunt said. "Our defense needed to step up, and that's when I realized our coaches were looking at me to lead."
Hunt also was called on to play running back. He scored two touchdowns in a 39-21 victory against Aberdeen on Sept. 13, and finished with 235 yards and five touchdowns. In the same game, Hunt had 10 tackles and four sacks.
Following a loss to West Point, Noxubee County went on a seven-game winning streak. It didn't allow the opposition to score in double figures in six of those games.
"Eric was a player you could look to in practice and say, 'Oh, I should be doing it like this,' " Shorter said.
Hunt says he learned how to mature by coming to practice every day and listening to Shorter and the rest of the coaches.
"I learned the key to life is just to keep fighting," Hunt said. "In whatever you're doing, if you keep fighting you'll win more than you lose. We didn't win a championship this year, but we probably got to a high level as a team. That's what is important."
With Shorter being more of a defensive coach, Hunt's effort in the year following the Tigers' 2012 state championship allowed his coach to focus on how to score more points.
"Coach Shorter's attitude was what kept our heads up even when we weren't winning every game," Hunt said. "What he did was have faith in what I call 'his guys,' and I was proud to say I was one of his guys. He was going to put the best 11 players on the field, and I tried to be that every week in practice."
Hunt's effort helped him be selected to the Bernard Blackwell All-Star game this past weekend in Biloxi. On a stage with some of the best talent in the state, Hunt cared about one thing. It's the reason he plays football.
"I enjoyed myself because I had fun," Hunt said. "I had fun showing my parents, my friends, and coach Shorter how well I could do. It was fun. Football is fun and that week was fun."
Hunt hopes to continue to having fun on a football field somewhere next season. He also hopes others find it fun to watch him, too.
"It seems like every junior college in Mississippi would like for me to play for them, and that could be enjoyable," Hunt said. "What I'll focus on is representing myself, my family, and Noxubee County the best I can. The rest is controlled by somebody else."
Follow Matt Stevens on Twitter @matthewcstevens.