By Jerrell Richardson
Kendall Hunter, RB #32
Height: 5 ft 7 in
Weight: 199 lbs
Hometown: Tyler, Texas
College: Oklahoma State
Experience: 2nd year
Kendall Hunter has the skills deserving of a starting spot as a NFL running back, but he has found himself in a better position in the 49ers backfield with Frank Gore. The 2nd year back is not quite a back-up, but there is no around the fact that Gore is the first and second option when San Francisco wants to run the ball. Hunter has continued to prove his worth, however, and in just his second year has seen an increase in his touches. Along with Gore, the two backs are leading the league’s top ranked rushing attack.
Grew Up In A Football State
Hunter grew up in Texas, a state in which football is a religion, so his level of competition was second to none. With a deep talent pool around him, as a senior in high school he rushed for 1,200 yards and piled up 14 touchdowns, making him the 40th ranked running back in the nation entering college. Hunter suffered a knee injury in high school that scared off a handful of suitors, but he still caught the eye of Oklahoma State. Hunter burst onto the scene for the Cowboys as a freshman, immediately making an impact scoring four touchdowns that year. He put the NFL on notice his sophomore year when he led the Big 12 Conference in rushing. He saved his best for last, rushing for 1,548 yards and scoring 16 touchdowns in his senior year.
Passed Over On Draft Day
Despite a successful college career, no other NFL team jumped at the chance to grab the under-sized Hunter, so San Francisco was able to steal him in the 4th round. With Frank Gore already leading the charge, Hunter was drafted to give the team depth and figured to be used when Gore needed to catch his breath. The rookie quickly showed that he is more then a back-up though and was asked to start in Week Four against the Eagles last year. In his first full year, Hunter amassed impressive numbers considering he was not the everyday starter and had to gain the trust of the coaching staff. He finished the season with an impressive 4.2 yard average, and has only gotten better this year as he has seen his touches and production increase.
No Slowing Down
So far in 2012, Hunter is averaging 5.0 yards per rush, has matched his touchdown total from last year and is only 150 yards shy of last year’s rushing total with six games left on the schedule. His speed, quickness and underrated strength make him a nightmare for defenders who spend most of the game getting a feel for Gore, whose style is more downhill and power. Ironically, the player who has benefited the most from Hunter’s success is backfield mate Gore, who is having one of the best seasons of his career because of Hunter has saved a ton of wear and tear on his body. Both backs appear fresh for the second half of the season. As a team, San Francisco is averaging 165.5 yards per carry, which is tops in the league. Outside of Anthony Dixon, who has 11 carries, there is no other running back who has even touched the ball, showing the trust that the team has in its young running back.
Two-Back System Is The Way Of the NFL
The reason Hunter should be content in his role is that he is being asked to do more at his pace. He must also realize that he does not have a body capable of taking the punishment that Adrian Peterson and Arian Foster take every week. By sharing the load, it has allowed both he and Gore to flourish, and Hunter can continue to audition to take over when Gore eventually retires, but even then the team will need another back. This is no knock on Hunter, as teams are starting to realize that no single back can endure the punishment that comes with running the ball for 16 games over a season, so it’s in the best interest of Hunter and the 49ers to keep him in this role.
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Jerrell Richardson is a Bay Area native who due to a college career at San Diego State University has grown an appreciation for all things sports related in California. His heart will always remain in San Francisco though where he currently resides and covers everything from the San Francisco 49ers and Giants to the San Jose Sharks and California Bears Baseball team. His work can be found on Examiner.com.