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April 13, 2011

Hunter makes presence felt

North Carolina sophomore defensive back Josh Hunter has spent a little bit of time all over the secondary during his career so far in Chapel Hill.

After originally coming in as a cornerback prospect, Hunter has moved to safety, back to corner, and now it appears indefinitely at the free safety position.

"We actually tried to transition Josh a little bit last year---corner, safety, corner, safety---trying to figure out (where he'd play)," said UNC head coach Butch Davis.

Hunter is aware of the fact that UNC is quite deep at cornerback heading into the 2011 season with all the returning players and incoming freshmen.

With his size and his lengthy running strides, Hunter is also aware that he's plenty capable of being an impact player at the free safety spot.

"Currently they (the UNC coaches) moved me to free safety right now," Hunter said. "We've got great corners. We've got great corners."

"Me, I'm a 'long strider.' That's a whole lot easier for me to transition and stuff like that instead of being a corner, where you've got to be short and quick. So I feel like it definitely helped me being at free (safety)."

"I was bigger, so I feel like I needed to switch, honestly," he added. "I feel more comfortable back there and everything. It's more natural for me."

Hunter showed just how comfortable and natural he felt at safety during Saturday's Spring Game in Kenan Stadium, where he produced four tackles, got one interception of a Marquise Williams pass, and came very close to getting a second pick.

"He (Hunter) made the one really, really good break for the interception," said Coach Davis. "He should have intercepted the one that Christian Wilson caught right in front of him."

"It's a very exciting day for me. I made a few plays here and there," said Hunter.

"Just being out there with my boys, that's always a good thing. I mean, just being able to play again from after sitting out watching and learning, I think that all helped. I feel like it did."

According to Coach Davis, on the play in which Hunter just missed a second interception, he broke late on the ball as if it was a practice repetition and it wasn't full-go.

"We practice so much where there's no contact and no tackling, and it was almost like he (Hunter) was taking one of those reps that's like, 'Okay, I'm going to let them catch it,' and then, 'Oh, I can tackle them. Oh yeah, it's live.'"

Davis believes those types of plays will come much more familiar to Hunter once he gets more and more live repetitions at free safety.

"Those are game experiences," Davis said. "That's stuff that you've got to do. The more scrimmages that kids like he get in, the better that they'll play."

Even with his near-miss of a second interception, Hunter showed outstanding ball skills along with good instincts for much of the afternoon.

"The ball is the issue---that's what Coach 'E' (defensive coordinator Everett Withers) says to us. The ball is definitely the issue for us, and I just tried the best way possible to make those things happen on the field," he said.

Hunter admitted that his advance knowledge of Williams, a former prep teammate at Mallard Creek High School in Charlotte, aided in the play he made against him.

"That's my boy (Williams)," said Hunter. "He's young, and I took advantage of it. I'm not going to lie. I took advantage of him. He got out there and rolled out of the pocket late."

"Knowing him before, I felt like I kind of knew what he was going to do, just because I knew him before. He's young. It's going to happen like that sometimes."

Confident in his change to safety, Hunter had a full spring this year to hone his craft and to develop his specific skills.

"Actually, I like playing safety. I don't regret moving or anything like that. I feel like it actually helped me produce, like (during the Spring Game). It translated to the field," he said.

"I'm pretty confident I'd say. I like safety. I really do like it. I can tell what everybody is doing. I feel like I can see the field."

He'll have to spend a lot more time using his feet playing the wide expanse of field he'll have to cover at free safety, so mechanics in those areas was particularly important this spring for Hunter.

"I definitely grew. From last year to this year, it's a big difference---definitely a big difference," he said.

"Especially since I moved to safety, transition, just the transition from that (cornerback) is a big adjustment for me. I feel little things like stepping and back-peddling, stuff like that, I've just grown with just older experience."

Hunter is part of a deep group of young Tar Heel defenders looking for a spot in the two-deep rotation, and he's looking forward to continuing to grow with this unit in the coming months as they prepare for the 2011 season.

"Right now we're just trying to become a complete defense---no holes anywhere," he said.

"We know we've got a solid defense, but right now we're just working on it. That's all we're pretty much doing right now."





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