WEST LAFAYETTE – Purdue junior running back Akeem Hunt is small. All 5-foot-9, 184 pounds of him screams speed, agility and the expected lack of power.
Until this spring, that was true of the former reserve back, who would rather run around contact than through it. Then, coach Darrell Hazell noticed a change.
He is showing some toughness, Hazell said. You saw him finish a couple of runs today where he lowered his shoulder and got some of those hidden yards – those two or three hidden yards that you need from a good running back in this conference.
It’s an evolution Hunt takes seriously. The Boilermakers need an every-down back next season, and he wants to be the guy.
Hunt has tried to to bulk up, while keeping his top-end speed. So far, it has gone well.
Day-in and day-out, I’m doing pushups. If I’m not in the weight room, I’m doing pushups, taking protein shakes, trying to get bigger, he said. I just want to be an every-down back running between the tackles instead of doing speed sweeps.
Hunt ran for 134 yards on 19 carries with a touchdown for the Black team Saturday. For his score, the junior made a couple of moves in the backfield, then dragged a couple of defenders past the goal line.
Quarterback Rob Henry said he believed Hunt could be the go-to running back for the Boilermakers.
Despite maybe not being the biggest guy on the field, he always runs hard, Henry said. He’s always full-speed. He’s never hesitant.
Hunt’s speed, mixed with his fearlessness, have instilled plenty of confidence from Hazell. He called Hunt a marquee back in the Big Ten.
Purdue plans to make use of that between-the-tackles style next season, with two-tight end sets and power run plays.
For Hunt to be in the mix, he’ll need to hit the running lanes quickly, but more importantly, powerfully.
Hazell thinks Hunt could be one of the better players in the conference if he can get through the first tackle or two. And Hunt’s speed will also allow him to break big runs.
He did it multiple times Saturday, with two 22-yard rushes, a 17-yarder, a 15-yarder and two other double-digit gains.
And Hunt is proving he can take the punishment on drives, too. Duing his second offensive series, Hunt carried it on seven of eight plays, capping the drive with that 15-yard scamper.
Where he is right now, Hazell said, I think he’s gonna be pretty special if he keeps working at it.