Michigan State ex-punter Tyler Hunt, once a small-school star, doing big things at tight end

Matt Charboneau
The Detroit News

If you would have told Tyler Hunt before the season that he was going to score Michigan State’s first rushing touchdown this season, he likely would have laughed in your face.

Forget the fact he’s a walk-on former punter turned tight end, but he wasn’t buying the idea of a tight end getting the ball in the backfield.

Michigan State tight end Tyler Hunt, a former punter, has a rushing touchdown this season.

But there was Hunt, lined up on the left side of the formation as Michigan State faced and third-and-goal at the 1-yard line last month at Iowa. Hunt went in motion to his right, took the ball from quarterback Rocky Lombardi, got around a pair defensive linemen that had pushed into the backfield and then dove for the pylon.

“I would tell them they’d never call that play in a million years,” Hunt, a fourth-year junior, said this week as Michigan State prepared to face Penn State on Saturday.

That touchdown was the only one the Spartans scored that day in a 49-7 loss to the Hawkeyes, which is remarkable enough considering they were coming off an upset win over Michigan the week before.

But the truly extraordinary part was the fact Hunt was even an option. In the fall of 2017, Hunt was just a guy going to Michigan State. But three games into that season, after sending an email to a general address in the MSU football offices, Hunt went to a tryout and found a spot on the team.

“I never went to any of the camps, none of that,” Hunt said. “ I think the word they use was 'street walk-on,' someone they don't know about that just shows up.”

A multi-sport star at tiny Gobles High in southwest Michigan, Hunt earned a spot as a punter and kicker. He redshirted that season and after Jake Hartbarger injured his leg in Week 2 the next year, Hunt was the Spartans’ punter. He averaged 40.1 yards a kick through five games, but his season ended when he tore his ACL in practice midway through the season.

It was during that season, though, that the legend of Hunt started to grow. Then-coach Mark Dantonio talked about what an outstanding athlete Hunt was, how he could throw the ball 70 yards with both hands. By the next fall, Hunt was holding for field goals and extra points and five games into the season, he appeared on the kick-return team.

Yep, the 6-foot-2, 235-pound former punter was in position to return a kick, which he did for 16 yards in Michigan State’s Pinstripe Bowl win over Wake Forest.

None of it was a surprise for anyone who watched him play at Gobles. As a senior he ran for 1,231 yards and 24 touchdowns from his quarterback position and played in the East-West All-Star game. He was Class C honorable mention all-state in basketball and was an honorable mention all-conference choice in baseball.

“I think a lot of my talents comes from how I grew up,” Hunt said. “I grew up with 12 other siblings in not a very big house, so we were outside all the time just doing different sports constantly out in the backyard. We were just making up games on our own, and I think that's where I got a lot of my athleticism from.”

It was clear at Gobles, where Hunt did everything. He confirmed Dantonio’s story — kind of. He can throw the ball 70 yards with his right hand but only about 50 with his left. But he did throw for a two-point conversion left-handed, and on kickoffs he once booted the ball out of the field of play into a surrounding wooded area.

It was that athleticism that led him to reach out to the MSU coaches after getting only minor interest from some smaller colleges in state. And, once on the team, it’s what got Hunt to push to be more than a kicker.

“I felt like I was a pretty decent athlete and could do more things than just kicking and punting the ball,” Hunt said. “But the idea of tight end actually didn't come about until this quarantine actually. I was just at home working out, put on some weight and kind of just asked (safeties) Coach (Mike) Tressel what he thought of that idea. He put me in contact, (tight ends) Coach (Ted) Gilmore and the ball kind of started rolling from there.”

It didn’t take long for the coaching staff to be impressed. Hunt has appeared in four games this season, starting the last two as senior Matt Dotson and sophomore Trenton Gillison have been ailing and in and out of the lineup.

Hunt has caught seven passes for 61 yards, hardly eye-popping numbers but it’s clear the Spartans are comfortable with Hunt in the game. And judging by what he’s already accomplished, it seems like a good bet he’ll continue to have a role, no matter what it ends up being.

“I think I'm a guy that’s shown that no matter what my role is on the team, whether it’s scout kickoff, just kicking the ball to the returners, stepping in as a punter, on the scout team on offense, or if it’s starting at tight end, my mentality is to attack every day, and show what a guy from a small town can do,” Hunt said. “Whatever my role is I'm going to go 100% in whatever I do. That's just the way I was raised.”

mcharboneau@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @mattcharboneau