A year ago, running back Jarquez Hunter was bursting onto the scene for Auburn football as a true freshman, opening the 2021 season by topping the 100-yard mark in his first two games.
After embarking on a 94-yard stroll to the end zone in week two versus Alabama State, the longest run by any individual on the Auburn team in 2021, he looked primed to be a star for the Tigers.
The season didn't end the way Hunter imagined after his torrid start, though. He is looking to once again establish himself as a featured back this year.
"The biggest adjustment (going into this season) is that I know I’m going to play a lot more this year, so I’ve got to really just get stuff down pat," Hunter said. "I’ve got to watch more film, take notes when coach is going over things, just pay attention to more details."
His immediate impact continued into a big week five win over LSU. Hunter bulldozed his way into the end zone with 3:11 on the clock, acting as the go-ahead score to help Auburn leave Baton Rouge victorious for the first time since 1999.
However, after the big game-winner in Death Valley, production began to drop off for the freshman from Mississippi. He did not notch another 50-yard game, and after being held to 38 yards on 12 carries in a win over Ole Miss, he was not handed the ball more than five times the rest of the season.
That was an obvious drop in usage for Hunter, who was handed the football an average of 8.6 times up through the first eight contests, and Tank Bigsby became a one man show in the backfield from then on.
After a long offseason for Hunter that included a procedure to clean up damage to his knee, he is looking to improve his game this season. Despite a lackluster ending to last season, Hunter has a lot to build on. He rushed for 593 and three touchdowns on 89 carries as a freshman.
Hunter notes his balance and jump cuts are two tools he has focused on this offseason, but he hopes his attention to detail will make him more reliable to his team this fall.
"I practice like I’m going to play in the game, so I practice hard," Hunter said. "I set goals for the running back room: just run hard, just play hard, just make sure they can count on me."
Although Bigsby and Hunter accounted for 73% of Auburn's rushing yards last season, Hunter likes what he sees from the guys below them on the depth chart, including junior Sean Jackson, who ran 12 times for 60 yards and a touchdown last fall.
"[Jackson is] a real hard runner. He’s going to do everything right. His footwork is good and he’s a hard player," Hunter said.
Another guy who has impressed Hunter is freshman Damari Alston. Alston is a four-star back out of Atlanta, and he packs a punch. Standing at 5-foot-10, the newcomer weighs in at 205 pounds, and he broke the record for career rushing yards (4,195) and touchdowns (62) at Woodward Academy High School.
"He’s actually been doing really good this fall camp," Hunter said. "He’s got great footwork, his cuts in and out — he does real good with it, and he’s a physical player."
Overall, Hunter says the offensive unit as a hole looks new and improved in 2022. From transfers to freshman to returning starters, everyone is meshing well, according to the back.
"Actually, I think we’ve gotten a lot better since last year," Hunter said. "I think we’ve come together as a team. Everybody just doing their part, playing their part in the offense."
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Noah is a senior in journalism from Salem, Alabama. He joined the Plainsman in August of 2021 after transferring in from Southern Union Community College.