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Winning is Paramount For SJB's Hunter

St. John the Baptist's star running back put up gaudy numbers, but he finds team success to be most satisfying.

isn't a numbers guy.

Mention his 244-yard, four-touchdown performance against Cardinal Hayes and it won't generate a smirk. The Cougars lost by five. 

Or how about a reference to his 239-yard and three-TD musical at Xavier?  He will shake his head in disgust. The Cougars lost that one as well—by two in double overtime.

If St. John the Baptist hadn't captured the by defeating St. Peters 29-6 on Nov. 13, Hunter's mind-blowing season totals of 2,294 rushing yards and 24 touchdowns would have been a waste. 

In his eyes anyway.  

"Getting all those yards and losing the game, it doesn't really matter," Hunter said.  "If you lose, alright, it's a loss, it doesn't mean anything.  You get the win and a lot of yards, it's something to be proud of."

Hunter's senior season put spectators into a statistical hypnosis. The episode that left fans the most spiral-eyed was undoubtedly his 345-yard, three-touchdown epic against Cardinal Spellman on Sept. 25.  Among that day's highlights for the 17-year-old Copiague native was an 88-yard kickoff return for a touchdown.

That game might get a rise out of Hunter. The Cougars won by five. 

"My dad always told me, when you're asleep, somebody's always working," he said.  "I can't settle because there's always someone watching me." 

Chunky little guy

Hunter never figured he would be a running back. In fact, football was a stretch.

"My dad wanted me to play basketball," he recalled. 

But his mother, Linda James, had other ideas.  Her friend had signed her son up in a youth football league and she quickly followed suit.

"He wasn't playing offense, he was playing defense," James remembered.  "And I didn't even know how good, how fast he was because he was on the chunky side when he was little."

One day when Hunter was in a game as a defensive lineman, the opposing running back fumbled. 

"The coach saw that I picked up a fumble and ran for a touchdown, and he said that I was fast and he asked my dad if he could put me at running back," Hunter said.  "My dad started doing drills with me, and the next year I became the running back in Pee Wee."

The waiting game

Shortly after Hunter completed his freshman year at Copiague High School, his family decided it was best for Derelle to transfer to because of the school's academic standards, and since it was around the block from his mother's job at .

Catholic school transfer policies forced Hunter to sit out one academic year, though Hunter practiced with the team.

That year, the sophomore would have probably played behind two star tailbacks anyway: Senior standout Thomas Beverly, who is currently the featured tailback at C.W. Post, and talented junior Vinny Iacono.

"Initially, he started with JV, because he was in 10th grade," SJB head coach Kevin Schweers said.  "And we saw right away that he was a special athlete and moved him up. He came out his sophomore year and kept up with them even though they were two years older than him."

Schweers, who coached at C.W. Post before SJB, said he saw glimpses in Hunter that reminded him of one of Long Island's and Post's all-time backs.

"He's got such great vision at such a young age," Schweers said.  "That's the thing that reminded me most about Ian [Smart].  It's vision you can't teach." 

Smart, one of the most prolific runners in Division II college history went on to play in the NFL and Canadian Football League.  Hunter deflected the compliment. 

Game time

During the offseason leading into his senior season—a season in which his expectations were the highest—Hunter set up a strict workout regiment so that he could square-up his 5-foot-10 frame and improve on his 40-yard dash (4.47), a time college recruiters hold dear to their hearts.

It worked. 

He led Long Island in rushing yards, carries and touchdowns, while adding four kickoff returns for touchdowns. And of course, that elusive CHSFL title. 

"I didn't have to remind Derelle that the yards he accrued had just as much to do with everyone else," Schweers said. "He knew enough that that was the case; that the guys up front blocking for him were just as responsible for his yards.

"And he always mentioned them and the fact that the defense got the ball back for him.   I think that comes from the kids he played with, and his parents.  That's the kind of kid you want.  You want that guy to be your leader."

The upcoming months will present new challenges and new opportunities for Hunter. While his on-field talent is obvious, he's working to continue improving academically in an effort to gain a college scholarship. Schweers mentioned that he has been in contact with Big East colleges Rutgers and Syracuse, in addition to Temple and others. Hunter will be in East Piscataway, N.J. on Nov. 26 for an official visit to Rutgers and to catch a home game.

"My son has come a long way," James said.  "St. Johns has brought him up and helped him out. He's doing good and he can do even better. 

"Some night I can't even sleep.  I can't express how I feel.  Because I want the best for him, like most parents do for their child.  It makes me feel that if he puts his heart towards anything, it could be accomplished."

Hunter said when he's not playing varsity basketball during the winter, he'll be with tutors, preparing for the college level.  He plans to study history once he gets there, and steer clear of mathematics. 

We all know how he feels about numbers.  

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