Q&A with Syracuse QB Terrel Hunt

After a rocky start to the 2013 season, Syracuse quarterback Terrel Hunt wrapped up his first year as the starter with come-from-behind wins against Boston College and Minnesota. Now, he’s trying to carry that momentum into the spring, despite coach Scott Shafer’s reluctance to officially tab Hunt as the starter once again. We caught up with Hunt to see how spring football is going.

Q: With a year of playing time under your belt, how much better do you feel this spring than you did last season?

A: I feel a lot better. I was more confident going into it. I’m trying to take full command of the offense. I want everything to just work perfectly. It’s not going to be perfect, but you try.

Q: Coach Shafer hasn’t officially named you the starter, despite how you performed down the stretch last season. Has that had an effect on how you’ve approached this spring?

A: It definitely doesn’t hurt me. That’s his way of letting me know that nothing is ever given. You have to earn everything. Even if you had a great season, an OK season, whatever it was last year, you still have to come in and fight. You just have to be ready to come in and compete and not be laid back. I actually like that he said that.

Q: Regardless of your spot on the depth chart, it seems like you’ve really tried to take on a leadership role this spring. Was that a priority for you?

A: Yes, of course. My whole thing was working on little tweaks in my game, getting my elbow up on long balls or working on my mechanics. But one of my major things was becoming a leader like Ryan (Nassib) used to be, being that guy that everybody looks to, being more vocal, having everybody trust you. Whatever you say, they’ll put their heart out on the field to do. So I’ve worked on being more vocal and being that leader where young guys can come to me. It didn’t hit me until after the season, and I was like, wow, I’m the older guy in the room and they’re going to be asking me questions. And I just want to be able to give back to them what I received when I was younger.

Q: How much did the way last season ended help your confidence?

A: It definitely boosted it. It gave me a chance to actually have a comfort level, to know how the game is, how fast it is, how coaches get, how crazy it gets when you’re down and how crazy it gets when you’re up, and how you’ve got to be the same player at all times. It helped how it ended because we came up successful. It wasn’t the best season, but our first year in the ACC, people kind of counted us out and we made something happen. So that means a lot.

Q: You had a lot of success as a runner last season, but in the passing game, you struggled at times. What changes have you been working on in terms of mechanics or knowledge of the playbook to improve as a passer this year?

A: Just staying in the pocket longer, learning how to bend my knees when I throw, keeping my elbow up, having my footwork match with the route, where everything is on time and there’s no second-guessing myself. Just being able to do all that, everything else will come along the way. If I’m able to get my footwork right and get my elbow up, I’ll have more zip on the ball and I’ll be throwing the ball before the wide receiver gets out of his break, so a defense won’t be able to jump on it. Little things like that. A lot of guys on the team say I’ve been doing it better, staying in the pocket more, and that’s going to help in the long run. When somebody opens up at the last second, and I’m still in the pocket and can make a play.

Q: You were learning on the fly a bit last season, but your receiving corps was awfully young, too. How has that group improved this spring?

A: I would be afraid to be in that receiving room, there’s so much talent in there. We were young last year, and it was a learning process. Now that we all know the pace of the game, we all know what coach is looking for, everybody’s competing, and it’s crazy. It’s every man for himself within that team aspect. They let each other know, ‘I’m coming for your spot.’ One time, Ashton (Broyld) and Quinta Funderburk were going at it. He said, ‘I’m coming for your spot,’, and he’s like, ‘You’re not getting it.’ It’s little things like that, coaches love that because you’re never comfortable. The young guys are pushing me and I’m never comfortable. I’m making sure I’m doing a little extra, doing more than they’re doing. You just compete, and that’s all that really is.

Q: You mentioned younger guys gunning for bigger jobs, and freshman quarterback A.J. Long didn’t hide the fact that he wanted your job, which led to a little friction. What’s your relationship like with him now, and how has he progressed this spring?

A: He’s a good quarterback. He came in a little hot-headed, but we all do. I love how he’s determined. He has the drive. He’s settled down. He understands his spot, he understands what he has to do and all the work you have to put in. I guess he didn’t know when he first got here because it’s tough. College football isn’t easy. We all had to learn that. I love his drive. He’s a fast quarterback when he gets out of the pocket. He reminds me of me when I first got here. As long as he keeps working, he’s going to be successful. I’m really proud of him, the way he came in, took on the offense, understanding the offense. I’m just proud of where we’re going right now.

Q: Shafer and others have talked about wanting to play much faster this season. What kind of an impact does upping the tempo have on you and your game?

A: It’s good. It means that I’ve got to get in better shape -- I’m not in bad shape, but you’ve got to be able to get around after a 20-yard run and getting tackled, you need to be able to walk around, tell everybody what they need to do, read the defense and take a breath. We’re going way faster than we were last year. There’s less communication between me and the wide receiver. Everybody is doing their job. The coaches are signaling into them now so they don’t have to look at me. As soon as I get the player, I tell the O line, I look at the wide receivers and we’re ready. I don’t have to talk to everybody. There’s less communication and more football.

Q: Is that even something you would’ve been capable of doing last year, or is it a facet to the game plan that has come with your maturity and the growth of the guys around you?

A: Definitely. Last year we were all young. The coaches were young themselves -- not young, but Coach [George] McDonald, this was his first offensive coordinator job. So going into it, you’re really excited and you want to do a whole bunch of things, but you want to make sure your players master the things you do. So we figured, shorten the playbook and master those plays and everything will work out.