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File photo by Cade Deakin / McMinn County running back Jalen Hunt, with ball, accumulated more than 2,000 all-purpose yards and had four interceptions as a junior last season to help the Cherokees go 9-2 overall and finish second in Region 2-6A behind perennial state power Maryville.

Jalen Hunt has already eclipsed McMinn County High School's single-game and career rushing records, but the 5-foot-10, 180-pound star will enter his senior football season with the Cherokees hoping to accomplish more.

As for what comes after that, Hunt already has a plan in place.

On Friday, the running back announced his nonbinding commitment via social media to Division I program Western Carolina.

The Catamounts, who compete in the Football Championship Subdivision and the Southern Conference, will gain the talents of a 2020 preseason all-state selection who has 365 carries for 3,176 yards (3,748 all-purpose yards) and 32 touchdowns in three high school seasons.

"I have been blessed to have great teammates and coaches who have helped set me up for success," Hunt told the Times Free Press. "I also had to put in a lot of hard work to get where I am at. I have accomplished a lot here, but I want to keep adding to my school rushing record and make it nearly impossible to reach."

He reached McMinn County folklore status on Nov. 1, 2019, with a jaw-dropping performance in which he helped lead the Cherokees to a 44-34 home victory over Region 2-6A foe Bradley Central.

That night, Hunt received outstanding blocks from a talented offensive line led by Bryce Goodner and Garrett Priest, but he also showcased his outstanding field vision and bursts of speed as he rushed for a single-game school record 377 yards on 30 carries and scored five times. He also had nine tackles and an interception in a signature win he affected in every way.

"That was the best game I have ever played," Hunt said. "I was really happy for my team, and it was a game we will all remember. We want to keep pushing and build off the great season we had last year and make a run at a state championship."

Hunt's versatility is one of his best assets, and it showed last season as he helped McMinn County win its first eight games and go 9-2 overall. He totaled 2,016 all-purpose yards and 15 touchdowns along with 83 tackles and a team-leading four interceptions. He rushed for 1,728 yards on 178 carries, and his average of 157 rushing yards per game led the area.

Although it's uncertain when the TSSAA football season will start, Hunt and the Cherokees will try to be ready to make the most of it. Then he'll focus on what's next and his new football home in Cullowhee, North Carolina.

"I always dreamed of playing college ball," said Hunt, who has a 3.5 GPA. "Western Carolina has shown me so much love and is going to be a great home. I can't wait to make the most of the opportunities college ball provides me. Playing the game of football that I love with my brothers means so much to me."

Contact Patrick MacCoon at pmaccoon@timesfreepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @PMacCoon.

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