Jarquez Hunter does not lack confidence.
The sophomore running back, like the rest of the Auburn running back room, heard Cadillac Williams’ tales of his glory days on the Plains – how Williams and Ronnie Brown were an elite duo of backfield in the early 2000s while leading the Tigers to an undefeated season, an SEC title and a second-place finish nationally in 2004. The way Hunter sees it, Williams and Brown wouldn’t have seen the field if he had been in college at the time.
At least, that’s what he told Williams, his trainer at Auburn.
“We go back and forth, because these guys think the game is tougher now and, ‘Coach, you didn’t get it like we did.'” Williams said.
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It’s all part of the friendly banter in Auburn’s running backs room this fall, and it could be an indication of things to come for Hunter in his second season with the Tigers as he looks to build a strong campaign from first year. As a true freshman last year, Hunter rushed for 593 yards and three touchdowns while averaging 6.66 yards per carry as a second and sometimes third option out of the backfield of Auburn.
“The biggest adjustment is that I know I’m going to be playing a lot more this year, so I really have to get things straight,” Hunter said.
A former three-star prospect from Philadelphia, Miss., Hunter was Auburn’s hardest-hitting true freshman in 2021. The 5-foot-10, 202-pound running back made a name for himself early in the year, turning heads with his back- rushing performances from 100 yards to start his career. He rushed for 110 yards and a touchdown on nine carries in the season opener against Akron, and he followed that up with 147 yards and a score on eight carries the following week against Alabama State — a performance that included a touchdown run of 94 yards, the longest in program history.
Unlike Williams, who admitted he had never been more nervous than in his early college days – when he rushed 10 yards on nine carries against Ball State in 2001 – Hunter says he was calm and eager to deliver the first time his number was called. .
And deliver he did. Hunter became the first Auburn freshman to start his career with consecutive 100-yard rushing games since Onterio McCalebb in 2009. The following week, before Auburn’s showdown at Penn State, Hunter debuted on the team’s official two-deep match. , sharing the No. 2 running back spot with Shaun Shivers.
Despite the meteoric start to his career, things started to calm down for Hunter last season. Its production began to dive into the SEC game, when competition stiffened. After a six-carry, 65-yard and one touchdown effort in Auburn’s win at LSU, he averaged 3.1 yards per carry the rest of October in games against Georgia, Arkansas and Ole Miss.
Once the calendar shifted to November, its keys also dwindled. He hasn’t recorded more than five runs in any of Auburn’s final five games of the season, all lost by the Tigers. During that streak, he made 20 total carries for 63 yards.
Despite a reduced role, Hunter’s confidence never wavered.
“This kid is A1,” Williams said. “I’m talking about A1. Not once did he complain. Not even once. And the kid put others first and wanted to see others succeed. He’s so confident in himself and his abilities and who he is as a person, and no matter what happens, if he gets 10, 20, 30 carries, this young man is a team guy. He’s gonna be – like I tell him, man – you keep that attitude, you keep that mindset, he’s gonna go a long way in life.
Hunter hopes that mindset will take him at least further into Year 2 on the Plains. With Shaun Shivers now at Indiana, Hunter enters the season firmly as Auburn’s No. 2 running back behind preseason first-team All-SEC selection Tank Bigsby. Both were marketed at SEC Media Days last month as a vaunted backfield combination that should get people’s attention this fall, but like Bigsby, Hunter isn’t resting on his laurels.
The sophomore missed the spring after minor knee surgery, but made a point this offseason, knowing the opportunity before him, to improve his training and study habits, becoming more detailed in both areas. He was already a notorious performer in the weight room, dating back to his days at Neshoba Central High, but he was aiming to improve his balance on the court, as well as his jumping with the ball in his hands.
“Jarquez is a machine,” Williams said. “He can run and he kills practices. It’s like the last man standing.
Hunter also noted all the yards he left on the table last season — missed opportunities, line holes and keys that could have produced more carries like the record-breaking Week 2 rush against Alabama State.
“He’s another guy who’s super talented,” Williams said. “Sometimes with super talented guys, they can get nonchalant or bored with the process, so my challenge for those guys is, big guys, they don’t get bored with the process. Like, boredom, man, can kill your dreams.
According to Williams, Hunter responded resoundingly, even pushing Bigsby at times in practice. Although he’s unlikely to get past Bigsby, who should be the foundation on which Auburn’s offense relies, Hunter thinks he’ll provide a good backfield complement to the accomplished junior — and maybe they could become another heralded Auburn running back duo, like Williams/Brown and others who came before them.
“(Williams) always talks about how that race hall he was in, they were all talented,” Hunter said. “He just said he has to work hard just to play – and I feel like I’m in the same situation. You just have to go out there and work hard and make things happen.
Tom Green is an Auburn Beat reporter for Alabama Media Group. Follow him on Twitter @Tomas_Verde.