MSU’s Hill-Hunt is happy with his new mission

Matt Charboneau
The Detroit News
Redshirt freshman defensive end Mufi Hill-Hunt is working his way back from knee surgery.

East Lansing — When Mufi Hill-Hunt looks out on the field at Spartan Stadium on Saturday, he’ll wonder if he’s about to have a family reunion.

The Michigan State freshman hails from Sandy, Utah, and it just so happens he has his share of connections to the visiting team, BYU.

“I have cousins on the team and a lot of them play defense, so it will be fun and I’ll be on the sidelines talking some mess and get in their ear,” Hill-Hunt said. “We all goof around and have Thanksgiving together and Christmas.”

So, how many cousins does Hill-Hunt have on the roster?

“I can’t even tell you,” he said. “I can tell you I need more hands for it, and friends, too. I know the majority of them. If they’re from Utah I know them.”

Not surprisingly, Hill-Hunt is the only player on the Michigan State roster from Utah, but he won’t be able to help the Spartans as they try to end their two-game skid against the Cougars. That’s because Hill-Hunt still is recovering from a knee injury suffered while hiking just before heading on a two-year Latter-day Saints mission, one that was cut short because of the injury.

It’s part of the winding path that landed 6-foot-5, 240-pound Hill-Hunt in East Lansing ahead of schedule.

First came his decision to play at Michigan State and not somewhere closer to home like BYU or Utah. A three-star defensive end at Taylorsville High, Hill-Hunt had plenty of offers from teams out West.

But something drew him to Michigan State.

“It wasn’t too tough,” Hill-Hunt said. “I knew I wanted to come here and play for Coach D (Mark Dantonio). If anything, being away from home was the hardest thing, but I really enjoy it here and knew I wanted to come here.”

So Hill-Hunt signed in February 2015 with plans to be on campus in two years, after his mission was completed. But that knee injury he first thought was a bruise turned out to be more.

While on his mission in Washington D.C. and northern Virginia, the constant walking caused his knee to blow up like a balloon.

“One day it was swollen really bad and I got sent home,” Hill-Hunt said.

He was given an honorable release from his mission, and after surgery in July 2015 took part of his hamstring and repaired his PCL, he was headed to East Lansing. He enrolled in January and took part in spring practice, making a few plays in the spring game.

“I played a little bit,” Hill-Hunt said. “After that I knew I was pretty much (done).”

Since then, Hill-Hunt’s focus has been on getting stronger, both in his knee and hamstring, while learning the technique of being a Big Ten defensive end.

“Right now, my knee I’m still trying to get it tough because they took part of the hamstring and made a new PCL,” Hill-Hunt said. “My hamstring is still iffy so I’m still trying to strengthen that. But every day I’m just trying to work. If anything it’s hands, extension, just little things so I’m ready when they need me next year or this year, whenever.”

Odds are that will be next year. There’s no doubt there should be opportunity to play on the defensive line. The Spartans will be young and looking for playmakers.

That’s what drew them to Hill-Hunt in the first place, a recruiting victory defensive line coach Ron Burton credited the staff with creating.

“We both liked what we saw and we know what we have in the future, that’s what we see in him,” Burton said. “He’s a kid that can run, is athletic and will help this football team in the future.”

And the Spartans are grateful he’s on their sideline this week.

“He’s got great athletic ability, he’s very flexible,” Dantonio said. “I think he’ll be a very good player. He’s not quite ready yet. He’s still trying to find his way, acclimating to college football at this level. But from Salt Lake, so very familiar with BYU, was recruited by them and an outstanding young person. Should be very successful here.”

Hill-Hunt is counting on it. He’s confident he made the right choice leaving home for Michigan State.

It might not have happened exactly the way he planned, but his faith tells him it’s the proper path.

“I knew God had a plan for me,” Hill-Hunt said. “Coach D even said that, so coming up here and getting rehab, still rehabbing, it’s been a blessing.

“Now that I’m here I’m all in for it and ready help out any way I can.”

BYU at Michigan State

Kickoff: 3:30 p.m. Saturday, Spartan Stadium, East Lansing

TV/radio: ABC/WJR

Line: MSU by 5

Records: BYU 2-3, Michigan State 2-2

Series: First meeting

mcharboneau@detroitnews.com

Twitter.com: @mattcharboneau