Starting at right tackle, UL's Hunt has reasons to smile

Tim Buckley
The Daily Advertiser
UL offensive lineman Robert Hunt is expected to have a big hand on the play of the Ragin' Cajuns offensive line this season.

At Burkeville High in tiny Burkeville, Texas, winning hasn’t come easy lately.

Since 2011, according to MaxPreps.com, the Mustangs have won a grand total of five games. Their most-recent win came in 2015. The last time they won more than two games in the same season was 2010.

Ah, the good ol’ days.

Robert Hunt, UL’s starting right tackle as the Ragin’ Cajuns prepare to open their season against Grambling on Saturday night at Cajuns, remembers them well.

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“We were getting killed,” Hunt said. “We were getting crushed, man. We were losing by like 70.”

His team, as he can best recall, had only 18 players. Some games, only 13 were available.

Hunt, who suffice it to say frequently played both ways, smiles wide as he laughs.

“But it was fun, man,” he said one day last month, while representing the Cajuns at the Sun Belt Conference’s Media Day in New Orleans. “I won two games my whole high school career.”

The big fella — all 6-foot-5, 336 pounds of him — laughs a little more.

The only alternative is to cry.

But a genuine grin, as Hunt’s face readily reveals, trumps a tear any day of the week.

“The man (is) a clown. … Really, he’s nothing but smiles,” UL running back Trey Ragas when asked about the large kid in front of him. “Joking around all the time. He’s a positive person. He’s got a lot of energy.”

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And he’s a key piece to the puzzle for new UL head coach Billy Napier and the Cajuns as they head into 2018.

The fit, though, fell into place only after a move in the spring from guard, where Hunt played most of the past two seasons, to tackle, with fellow fourth-year junior Kevin Dotson playing just inside of him.

“He’s proved to be an effective right tackle,” Napier said during preseason camp earlier this month.

“He can hold up on the tackle position,” new UL offensive coordinator and o-line coach Rob Sale said. “He did a little bit last year, and I think it’s a good spot for him.”

MORE:New Cajuns coach Napier shaped by so much in his past


At Burkeville, where he played at about 270 pounds and began the steady climb to 300-plus, Hunt often played where needed.

For a while, especially early on, he was at tight end. On occasion, he even split out and ran some routes from an outside receiver position. Not until his senior season did he settle into the offensive line.

He came to UL as a tackle, and it was there — while being redshirted as a freshman — that Hunt said, “I thought I played my best football.”

“Then I went to guard,” he added, “and, honestly, I kind of lost a little confidence.”

Hunt was named UL’s starter at left guard coming out of spring drills in 2016, and he wound up starting all 13 games that season including a New Orleans Bowl appearance against Southern Mississippi.

Last season Hunt started all 11 of the games in which he played, opening nine of them at guard and spending the other two — mostly due to other shuffling on the line, prompted in part because of injuries elsewhere — at tackle.

“I didn’t play well,” Hunt said of his days at guard.

“But now, getting back to right tackle, being by my dude (Dotson) I came in with — I think me and him, we can play really well together. He can make my game better; I think I can help his game out a lot, too.”

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Dotson does as well.

“I feel we’re pretty much the same football-wise — being hard-workers, trying to be No. 1 on the field, trying to be the best athlete we can be,” he said.

With 2017 starters Grant Horst and D’Aquin Withrow both being seniors last season, moving to tackle was something Hunt probably would have done anyway had Hudspeth and his staff been retained.

Kicking him outside also made sense to Napier and his assistants.

The decision to play Hunt at tackle, Sale said, came after “just watching him through the offseason program, seeing him moving around, leaning up, really taking care of his body, seeing him change direction.”

The assignment was just what Hunt wanted to hear, because tackle is the position to which he feels his skill set is suited best.

“I feel like I’m an athletic guy. I know I’m an athletic guy,” he said. “I feel like I’m gonna be bigger and stronger than the little guys (he has to block).

“But the thing about it: I’ve just got to beat them to the spot.”

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Improving his pass-protection ability was the biggest step Hunt felt he needed to take this offseason.

“I feel like I can move anybody on the outside, just by being big and fast,” he said.

So when UL’s new coaches told him he was headed back to tackle, Hunt said, “I was pretty happy about that.

“I was going to ask that anyway,” he added. “I always had the feeling I would go back out there after two years anyway.”


By being on the right side alongside Dotson, UL has a guard-tackle tandem that potentially could be one of the Sun Belt’s best.

Dotson was the Cajuns’ only first team preseason All-SBC selection. Hunt is a third team preseason All-Sun Belt pick according to both the Athlon and Phil Steele’s national college football preview magazines.

Robert Hunt (50) and Kevin Dotson (75) will be playing together on the right side of UL's offensive line this season.

“We talked about it freshman year,” Dotson said of he and Hunt playing together like they will this season.

“We (were) like, he’s gonna be tackle, I’m gonna be guard. We were like, ‘This is gonna happen one day,’ and when it happened it felt perfect.”

The setup gives the Cajuns — along with Cole Prudhomme at center — three returning starters on the line to block for Ragas, Elijah Mitchell and Raymond Calais Jr.

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“We’re gonna dominate,” Prudhomme said. “It’s simple. We’re just gonna plow anybody in our way.

“I’m just glad that they’re on my line, period,” Prudhomme added. “You know, having two monsters like that — you can put one on one side and one on the other (or both together), it doesn’t matter.”

As it turns out, Hunt and Dotson both will be on his right — and the center from Eunice High really does have high regard for the two who’ll be on that side.

“Great guy. You know, he’s a leader. That guy, he comes in, works, doesn’t complain,” Prudhomme said of Dotson. “He sees somebody loafing around, he’s gonna point a finger and tell him, ‘Let’s go.’

“Hunt, same way. These guys like to work. That’s what we need, especially for this team. We need guys that want to work, and they both do that tremendously well.”

MORE:UL's Prudhomme takes show from film room to the field

So there is a business side to Hunt, too.

“He’s done a good job with the younger guys, not only in the o-line room, but throughout the offense in general, getting the guys to do the right thing,” offensive coordinator Sale said. “He’s done a phenomenal job for us.”

“You could tell that he’s realizing he’s an old head now, so he took on a role to be a leader,” running back Ragas added. “If we’re messing around on offense, he’ll get us back right in check, ready to play the next play.”

Whereas the right side of UL’s line was settled before camp began, the left was not.

Emerging as first-year starters there are guard Ken Marks and tackle Rico Robinson — two of Hunt’s roommates.

RELATED:UL's Game 1 starters still unsettled at a few positions

“I feel like we’ve got other good people on the other side, too,” he said with reference to those two, “so I feel like they (UL running backs) are gonna run anywhere and everywhere.

“But I feel like me and Dotson take the o-line seriously. I think we take it really serious.

“We take that upon us,” he added, “to make sure the o-line goes and that they get to get run the ball and (we) protect the quarterback.”

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Back at Burkeville, not much went right for Hunt and the Mustangs when he was there.

He won just three games during his three-season career there — one as a sophomore, one as a senior.

Both times, the opponent was the same.

“Sabine Pass,” Hunt said.

“Each year either they were gonna win the game or we were gonna win the game. If not, we were 0-10.”

Or something real close to that.

According to MaxPreps, Burkeville went 1-9 in 2012, 0-9 in 2013 and 1-9 in 2014 — Hunt’s three years. 

When UL unearthed him at the Class 1A program located in an unincorporated Newton County community about 10 miles west of the Sabine River near the Louisiana border, Hunt was ready to leave Texas.

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Houston was the only other NCAA FBS program that came calling.

But it did so only after the Cajuns first offered him at a prospects camp. And after Houston initially offered him, a coaching change meant the new Cougars staff did not offer again until a few days before National Day Signing.

By then, Hunt’s heart was set on crossing state lines and heading to Louisiana.

There, Hunt’s first position coach was Mitch Rodrigue, part of Hudspeth’s old UL staff.

“Coach Rod was a man of his word,” Hunt said. “He truly treated me how he told me he was gonna treat me, when he was here.”

Then Napier came from Arizona State, where he was offensive coordinator last season.

He brought Sale — a former LSU offensive lineman who also has been an assistant at McNeese, Georgia and UL Monroe — along from there to coach the line.

RELATED:Joining Napier at UL 'no-brainer' for ex-LSU Tiger Sale

“At first, it hit me really hard — because I didn’t have a problem with Hud, and I really loved Coach Rod,” Hunt said of Hudspeth’s firing last December. “Coach Rod was my guy. He treated me like a son, and I loved him. But life happens. Changes happen.

“Coach Napier came in; he’s been really great. He’s a really good guy. … Coach Sale and Coach Looney (D.J. Looney, UL’s assistant offensive line coach) are really good guys. They’re funny dudes.

“They mean business. They’ll coach you hard, but you’re gonna love it,” Hunt added. “Coach Sale is gonna love you like a son. Coach Sale will give you his shirt off his back.”

The change in staffs — much like all those losses at Burkeville — truly was tough to absorb.

But, in the end, a win here or there — and a coach who does you right, wherever you are — makes it all worthwhile.

“I come from a 1A, so it’s definitely different,” Hunt said of being at UL. “It’s so much different.

“I love it here, instead of back home — because home is so small. It’s been a blessing in my life, and I’m enjoying every bit of it.”