A few years ago, Baer Hunter’s dedication to focus became clear.
And that’s not to say he wasn’t before, but the trait shines through anytime the Appalachian State offensive lineman speaks about or on behalf of his program. Other than the moments where he slips in his sense of humor, Baer is all business.
“I mean, you got to,” Hunter said last week, ahead of his final home game as a college football player. “The season is so quick, if you’re not locked in, you can slip at any point. And that’s the last thing I can do. I can’t slip at all.
“So just trying to get better each and every day, even though it’s almost done, and see where it can take us as a team and me personally.”
The West Forsyth grad used that focus to find his way and, most importantly, become an indispensable fixture for the Mountaineers’ offense during the last four seasons.
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Through his six years — thanks to a redshirt season in 2016, a year as a utility man, then four straight seasons as a starter thanks to the extra year of eligibility provided by the NCAA — he became only the eighth player to make 50 starts for the program.
Shawn Clark pointed to his relationship with Hunter as an example of commitment, but also a reminder about what he loved as a position coach. Hunter came to the program as a defensive lineman, playing mostly on special teams. He then shifted to tight end late in the 2017 season due to injuries thinning the position.
Then he joined Clark’s offensive line, splitting time (but starting mostly) at right guard in 2018 before taking over the position completely the next two seasons. This year, he became the starting center to help stabilize a line dealing with graduation departures. Hunter said his journey is no better than any of his teammates, though.
“We’ve all made sacrifices throughout our processes of being here,” Hunter said. “Everybody’s sacrifice will be different. Like mine was moving positions and trying to figure out where I fit on this team.”
Clark said watching Hunter thrive makes the process resonate in his mind: players coming to your office, sitting down and talking through problems, hosting a position group and watching relationships form between a coach’s family and his players. Hunter worked out, Clark said, because he believed in the coach’s vision.
“I think it comes down to trust, that’s probably the biggest thing,” Clark said. “We watched him play defensive line, and I told him that if he came to play offensive line, you’ll be an all-conference player and a potential All-American draft pick.
“When he realized he had potential to do that, he was just on board.”
Hunter has been an all-Sun Belt player the last two seasons, earning first-team recognition last season. He’ll likely add another to that later this week when the conference hands out their end-of-season accolades.
He’s played for three conference-winning teams (twice as a starter), and he’ll get a chance to win another on Saturday in the Sun Belt title game at Louisiana. The Mountaineers notched their 10th win of the regular season last week.
Hunter made his decision to return to App state quickly. The moment eligibility was granted due to the COVID-19 season, he said he knew he’d be back in Boone. Now with two games left to play, he’s not thinking about how rewarding this return season has been so far. He’s also not stopping to consider what he’s achieved either. But when this chapter of his life closes, he hopes that Mountaineers fans remember him one way.
“Just that I was a team guy. A guy that cared about the guys in our locker room. A guy that was respectful to the coaches. Not a ‘Me’ guy,” Hunter said as he looked around the football field in Kidd Brewer Stadium. “I just want people to know that I was never a ‘Me’ guy, even in times where I wanted to be.
“I just want people to be able to remember that … a guy that was for the team and everybody else out here working.”