From Servite volleyball to Air Force football

By Walter Villa

This season is Sam Hunt’s volleyball finale, and it is looking like it could be a great one.

The 6-foot-6, 205-pound senior middle blocker plays for Servite (Anaheim, Calif.), the No. 5 team in the POWERADE FAB 50 national rankings.

But after the season ends, Hunt will focus on a different sport. After competing in volleyball, basketball and football for much of the past three years, Hunt will concentrate on football for Air Force, where he will also study engineering.

Hunt, 18, and Servite volleyball coach Matt Marrujo both used the words “mature decision” to describe Hunt’s choice to attend Air Force.

“Right out of college, you get a guaranteed job in your field,” Hunt said. “Rather than going to another college and wondering if I will have a job after I graduate, here I get a guarantee.”

Added Marrujo: “It’s a great opportunity. I would love to see him play college volleyball. But he has always been up-front with us. There are more scholarships in football.”

Marrujo said Hunt’s leaping ability has improved due to volleyball, which has helped him in football, where he plays wide receiver. In fact, Hunt was also used last year to get up and try to block field goals.

Servite football coach Troy Thomas said part of Hunt’s appeal for Air Force is that he can create mismatches because of his size and body control.

“He has huge growth potential,” Thomas said. “Being in a Division I weight room, you will see him put on 25 pounds and becoming a tough cover and a tough guy to bring down.”

Hunt played baseball as a freshman and didn’t play competitive volleyball until a year later.

He earned all-league honors as a junior, and Marrujo said it’s difficult to predict just how good he could have become had he played volleyball full-time.

“He jumped in with us right away,” Marrujo said. “I’ve gotten more calls from colleges about Sam than any other player.”

Hunt said he enjoys volleyball and dreams of winning a regional title (there is no state title in California), even though teams such as No. 1 Loyola (Los Angeles, Calif.) and No. 4 Mira Costa (Manhattan Beach, Calif.) could stand in the Friars’ way.

It was his brother, Ben Hunt, who convinced him to try volleyball. Ben, a 6-4 sophomore, is an outside hitter for Grand Canyon University in Phoenix.

Ben said his brother could have been recruited by the likes of Stanford and USC had he devoted himself to volleyball.

“It (stinks) for volleyball to lose a great athlete like Sam,” Ben said. “But seeing him play football, he is great at that, too. Sam can pick up any sport and in a week look like a natural.”

Sam Hunt, who has a 4.0 GPA, said he doesn’t really have a favorite sport. He just loves to compete and enjoys whatever sport he’s playing at the time.

But it is fair to say that volleyball has helped him become a better wide receiver.

“In volleyball, you have to be quick with your footwork, moving side to side,” he said. “As a receiver, I need to be able to move laterally or vertically and go get the ball, really attack.”

Hunt ran a 4.85 in the 40-yard dash before last season, but he feels he got a lot faster as the season progressed.

And that’s what makes him such an intriguing prospect.

By his own admission, Hunt felt “rookie-ish” at the start of every season, always transitioning over from a different sport.

He felt he made a lot of “dumb mistakes” early in the 2011 football season before he started running better routes and making difficult catches look easy.

Air Force coaches have told Hunt that if he gains a bit more weight, he will be moved to tight end. Hunt would prefer to stay at receiver, where he can jump over cornerbacks and grab touchdown passes.

Hunt knows there aren’t a lot of catches to go around in Air Force’s run-dominated option attack but says he is “fine with that.”

He’s also fine with the rigors of basic training. His grandfather was in the Navy and worked on submarines, disabling bombs. Two of his cousins were also in the Navy and traveled all over the world.

Those family members -- as well as other people he’s met -- have said that basic training is much harder mentally than it is physically.

“My recruiter didn’t sugarcoat it. He said it was going to (stink) my first two years,” Hunt said. “But I’m willing to go through the discipline and toughness.

“It seems hard. The (drill sergeant) will yell at you. But people get through it every year.”

Hunt will owe the Air Force a five-year commitment after graduation. At that time, he will give the Air Force three options of where he would like to be stationed.

After that, Hunt is free to either re-enlist or leave the military.

But all those tough decisions are years away. For now, Hunt wants to enjoy his senior season of volleyball and would love to go out on top.

“Sam has the perfect build for volleyball and is very quick to the pin,” Marrujo said. “He reads the game very well for a guy who hasn’t played a lot. Because of football, he is a very strong and physical player at the net and hits the ball hard.

“I think there is no question he could have been a Division I volleyball player.”