BRADENTON, Fla. -- When he came to the United States from his native Estonia in 2008, Margus Hunt viewed America as the land of opportunity.
“My goal and vision was to be in the Olympics in 2012," Hunt said.
That didn’t happen. Instead, Hunt will be going to the National Football League in 2013, which may be an even more amazing accomplishment than if he had gone to the Olympics.
The defensive end from SMU is being touted as a possible first-round pick in the April draft (he might even be a consideration for the Atlanta Falcons at No. 30 overall). IMG Academy director of football operations director Chris Weinke, who has been helping Hunt prepare for the scouting combine, said he expects his pupil to open some NFL eyes in Indianapolis.
“He’s a unique individual," Weinke said. “He’s a physical specimen. He’s going to test out as well as anyone tests out over there. He hasn’t played the game a ton. What I see from him is huge upside because of lack of experience. But he’s got the mentality that he’s going to do whatever it takes. He just needs to get into a system and continue to gain some experience and I think he’s going to be around for a long time."
Just getting drafted would be quite a story for a guy that never played high school football and didn’t start playing until the 2009 season at SMU.
“Growing up, I vaguely knew what the game was about," Hunt said. “I kind of knew there was a game out there like that, but that’s about all I knew."
Part of that was because American football doesn’t get a lot of attention in Estonia. But part of it was because Hunt’s passion was track and field. Hunt won all sorts of junior championships in the shot put, discus and hammer throw and he thought his path to the Olympics would run through Dallas.
SMU had dropped its men’s track program, but coach Dave Wollard was attempting to get it started again. Hunt enrolled at SMU on a part-time basis in 2008 and began working out privately with Wollard.
“After a while, nothing happened, so we had to find a different alternative," Hunt said. “My first option was to go to a different college altogether and work something out. But I really didn’t want to leave SMU. The football coaches had always seen me in the weight room and were always bugging me about trying out for the football team. Eventually, coach (June) Jones agreed to let me have a tryout."
Jones must have seen plenty of potential in that tryout because he turned around and gave Hunt a football scholarship. That move paid off nicely for the Mustangs.
Hunt, 6-foot-8 and 277 pounds, recorded 31 tackles, eight sacks, 11.5 tackles for a loss, forced two fumbles and blocked three kicks in his final season.
The one knock is Hunt doesn’t have a lot of football experience. But Weinke said that shouldn’t be viewed as a negative.
“I’ve seen him develop a lot since he got here," Weinke said. “He’s gotten a lot better technique wise. He’s still not a finished product and that’s what should be exciting to teams that are looking at him because there still is so much upside."