No. 7 Hunter Townson
Committed to UTC
Why do you wear 70?
"I had worn 71 all through little league, but in seventh grade a coach told me he had specially ordered a No. 70 jersey for me in my size, thinking that was my number. I didn't want to tell him it was the wrong number, so I just stuck with it."
Ability was never a question for Hunter Townson. His biggest concern was whether football recruiters would be able to find him at tiny Ider (Ala.) High School. But at 6-foot-4 and 280 pounds, the two-way all-state lineman has the size and skills to force college coaches to break out their atlases and come calling.
With offers or interest from Middle Tennessee State, Arkansas State, Marshall, Jacksonville State, South Alabama, Furman and Alabama-Birmingham, it was the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, the first school to recruit him, that earned a commitment from Townson.
"Early playing time was important to me," said Townson, who was recently granted by the DeKalb County school board the right to become that county's first student to graduate early, allowing him to enroll at UTC for the spring semester and begin competing for a starting job at right tackle.
"I know I can earn a spot and help them early," he added. "I knew the city pretty well because my parents work in Chattanooga, and with it being close to home, all of that helped me feel real comfortable with my decision. The biggest shock for me was that those colleges found me. Ider is such a small place and school, I really wondered if I would get noticed at all. Most people don't even know where it is or how to get there, but the college coaches found me."
Until he was in junior high, Townson was one of the smallest kids in his class. But he grew more than six inches in two years, and by his sophomore season Ider coach Brent Tinker, who also played offensive line at UTC, pulled Townson aside to tell him he had the potential to become a college player.
"It had been a pretty lousy year in my mind," Townson said. "But when Coach Tinker told me he thought if I worked at it that I could become a college prospect, knowing he had played in college, that meant a lot to me. I went to work to reach that goal.
"I know there are high expectations for me, and I like that. I take a lot of pride in wanting the offense to run plays behind me. I tell the coaches to have faith in me, to run behind me because I'll make the hole and get us the yards we need."
Using a power running game mostly designed to run behind Townson, the Hornets have made the playoffs each of the last two seasons. And last year he not only was the primary reason Ider's offense clicked well but also was the region's defensive player of the year and earned all-state honors at defensive end. In a win against Fyffe, he had a game-high 11 solo tackles.
"At our level everybody plays both ways," Tinker said. "He didn't come off the field much last year, and he had an exceptional year at defensive end. People got to where they just didn't run to his side. A lot of his highlights on film were on the defensive side of the ball.
"He's a kid who did the work on the field, in the weight room and in the classroom to make himself a prospect. I knew with his skills, colleges would come find him. He's too good to get overlooked. He's got great feet for a kid his size. He isn't just big, he is agile, and that's what made him a big-time prospect.
"It's exciting to know I'll go watch not only my alma mater play next year, but one of the kids I've coached helping them."
Stephen has covered local sports in the tri-state area for more than 24 years, having been with the Times Free Press since its inception, and has been an assistant sports editor since 2005. Stephen is among the most decorated writers in the TFP’s newsroom, winning numerous state, regional and national writing awards, including seven in 2013 and a combined 12 in the last two years. He was named one of the top 10 sports writers ...