Chance Hunter was on the sidelines for kickoff returns his junior season. But as one of only two returning starters as a senior, Houston didn’t have the luxury of letting him rest on special teams this year.
So Hunter returned kickoffs in 2016 and was one of the state’s best at doing so.
Hunter was recently named a third team kick returner on the Class 2 Missouri Football Coaches Association all-state team.
The move to special teams proved to be a successful one.
“Last year we were able to rest him because we had several kids that could run,” HHS football coach Eric Sloan said. “We talked in the offseason and he was open to the idea. We thought it gave us an opportunity to gain some field position.” And more.
Hunter returned 15 kickoffs for 449 yards — an average of 29.93 yards per kickoff return. He ran two back for touchdowns
“It was a role he was excited about,” Sloan said. “We tried it and definitely had some success.”
Hunter’s all-state selection is the first for the HHS football program since 2008. The last Tiger to receive the honor was Kyle Poynter, who was named a first team kick returner.
At 5-foot-8 and 189 pounds, Hunter wasn’t the stereotypical return guy. But it was his combination of speed and strength that made him successful.
“He’s probably heavier than most high school return guys,” Sloan said. “But he runs hard, breaks tackles and is just tough to bring down.”
That toughness was on display in Week 6 at Ava.
It was midway through the second quarter. Ava had just returned a punt for a touchdown. Hunter picked up the ball on the 4-yard line and broke free down the right sideline in front of the HHS bench.
Around the Ava 15, Hunter encountered a defender. He shed the tackle and continued to plow toward the end zone. He broke another tackle around the 5 and dove across the goal line for the touchdown.
“That was all heart,” Sloan said. “He broke several tackles, was stiff-arming guys and just refused to go down.”
The final yards of the 96 – yard return were especially impressive.
“The last 15 yards or so were just a dogfight,” Sloan said. “He wasn’t going to be denied the end zone.”
The following week, he did it again.
On homecoming against Willow Springs, Hunter took a third-quarter kick 92 yards to the house. This one didn’t require as many broken tackles as Hunter made a cut and raced untouched to paydirt.
“He had the ability to take it to the house every time he touched the ball,” Sloan said.