UNION COUNTY — A Union County football and baseball standout strives to be a leader on the field as well as in the community.
Union County Yellow Jackets’ AJ Hunter is a second-generation athlete who loves to be part of all sports. AJ is the son of Sherry Brandon and the late Anthony Hunter — a former three-sport athlete from Union who was inducted into the Union County Athletic Hall of Fame in 1998. Former Yellow Jackets Coach Shell Dula called Anthony an athlete with “amazing speed” who was a “class young man in every sense of the word.” Anthony Hunter passed away after being involved in an automobile accident in 2003. At that time, AJ was six years old.
“With my dad not being there, sometimes it would get hard to stay in sports,” AJ said. “I have people talking to me every day, trying to keep me in the works.”
AJ mentioned those who have helped him, including Coach GB McDaniel, Coach Jon Langenfeld, and Union County teachers Jordan Bright and Jessica Turner. He said Bright and Turner check up on his grades, and they have helped him select classes for his upcoming senior year, which will include high school concurrent classes at USC Union. AJ was inducted into the UCHS Beta Club last year. AJ also mentioned he likes new Union County Coach Bradley Adams, who AJ said was a very good coach and a Christian man who is always there for his players.
AJ said the loss of his father at an early age — and the guidance he has received from others since then — have molded him and his goals for the future. His plan is to go to college to play both football and baseball and major in physical education so he can become a coach.
Even though he is still in high school, AJ is already an inspiration and leader to others — on the field and in the community.
Over the summer, besides attending summer football practices, AJ has volunteered numerous times as a coach/mentor at both the Union County Recreation Department Summer Sports Camp and the Pooh’s Playhouse Summer Fun Camp.
“Some kids growing up right now, they don’t have that guide,” AJ said.
He mentioned hearing stories about so many athletes who could have had much more success if someone had guided them in the right direction.
“I hear stories from everybody I know about how things went wrong for others who didn’t go down the right path, so I’m going to do my best to stay on that right path,” AJ said. “I just love the sport. That’s why I want to go to college for physical education. I want to coach so I can teach kids how to play the game the right way and be respectful.”
He is already teaching those character traits to the children who attend the summer camps.
“It’s fun to spend time with these kids here,” AJ said. “I just love playing the game and keeping them on the right path instead of being in the streets, because that’s not the place to be. I know how young they are, and remember wanting to know the steps the older athletes took to get where they were.”
AJ said he has helped teach campers about the importance of attitude as well as basics such as running bases and taking steps to swing the bat in baseball, or how to dribble, run, stop and shoot or plant and pass in basketball. He said he also works with children who are apprehensive about playing, afraid their performance won’t be good enough.
“Some of them say they don’t want to look crazy; I try to teach them it’s OK to look crazy, just get out there,” AJ smiled.
Union County Recreation Department Summer Sports Camp director Tiffany Grady-Hudgins said AJ is great with the children who attend the camps, and the children sometimes respond better to athletes they admire such as AJ. Grady-Hudgins said his personality makes him a great role model.
“People always call me a teddy bear,” AJ laughed. “I’m just really easy going. Again, not having my dad there, I feel comfortable showing kids the right way to play. I’m not perfect, but once I have kids around, I’m all about being positive. When people think of me, I want them to think I’m a good athlete, good in the classroom, always have hustle, and always there when someone needs help.”
Grady-Hudgins remembers seeing AJ hustle the first time she saw him on the baseball field.
“The baseball team was getting beat 10-1, and there were two outs,” she said. “He came to the plate and hit a rope. He beat the throw to first base, and next he stole second base. He was hustling! The game was pretty much over, but he was still hustling.”
AJ said he believes character is everything in sports.
“When you play the game, you always want to respect the game,” he said. “Games don’t always go your way. You can come down the field, score a touchdown and get a pick-off. We always want to get mad and blame each other, but sometimes you just have to suck it up and take ownership. You just have to stay in the game. If it’s 21-0, you can come back from 21-0. You just don’t give up. I know we can win, and I always have faith in my teammates.”
AJ said he thinks selfishness and discipline problems are what cost his football team several games last year, and he believes it will be different this year. He also said he tries to inspire his teammates to work harder.
“During the games, sometimes when something doesn’t go our way, some people start to drag, and I try to pick them up,” he said.
AJ also uses the competitive nature of his fellow athletes to push them to work hard.
“I have the attitude that I’m going to outwork everybody, and I let them know I’m going to outwork everybody,” he said. “Sometimes they don’t like that, and they competitive with me when I do it.”
AJ is already talking with college recruiters about his future. He said he has had discussions with people from both Limestone and Appalachian State about playing both football and baseball.
“Right now, I’m just hoping I can play both in college,” he said. “I know it will be tough, but I think I can do it.”
So far, AJ has not received an offer from a college, but he said he believes they want to see his performance during the first few games of the upcoming season.
“I can’t wait for the season to start so I can show them what I can do and start getting offers,” he said. “I’m ready.”
Derik Vanderford can be reached at 864-762-4128.