UNION — A.J. Hunter has some pretty big shoes to fill and he embraces the challenge.
A state champion wrestler who also excels on the baseball diamond and football field at Sim Middle School, A.J. is a legacy. That’s because his father is the late Anthony Hunter, a man whose name is synonymous with Union County athletics. Anthony was Union High School’s all star running back in 1989-90 and he is still considered one of the top rushers of all time from the state of South Carolina.
“He was the biggest running back I’d ever seen back then and he was fast as a jack rabbit,” Anthony’s former teammate Derrick Green recalled. “I can remember trying to tackle him at practice one day and he drug me about 20 yards before I let him go.”
His son hopes to be remembered for his athletic abilities as well.
“People tell me stories about my dad all the time,” said A.J. “He was a beast on the football field. I want to be just like him, but better.”
Although he was a tremendous athlete, Anthony’s senior year at Union High School was the last time he played football.
His son has other plans.
“A.J. has what it takes to be a great athlete,” said Union County wrestling coach G.B. McDaniel. “Not only does he have the talent, he also has the heart. He works hard in the classroom too because he plans to play at the collegiate level.”
McDaniel and A.J. first became acquainted last year at Sims where McDaniel teaches and coaches football. The two bonded quickly and easily.
“He’s really like a son to me,” said McDaniel. “I just try to keep him away from all the negative influences out there and encourage him to stay focused because if he does, he’s going to be great.”
An eighth-grader at Sims Middle School, A.J. won his first state championship from the wrestling mat on Saturday. The 270-pounder went undefeated in the tournament with four pins and one points win. His final match of the day was the one he’d been hoping for, because of who he’d be facing as much as the fact that it had championship implications.
“I lost by points to the dude from Florence Chapel at Peachtree (the Conference Championship) and it just made me want to win State even more,” said A.J. “It’s been a lot of hard work every day at practice to get here but it paid off.”
Sims wrestling coach Jon Langenfeld said A.J.’s loss at the Peachtree tournament was just what his heavyweight needed.
“It just drove him,” said Langenfeld. “Throughout the day he didn’t overlook anybody, but I knew that in the back of his mind that was the biggest thing he wanted to do — beat the kid that beat him at Peachtree. He ended up doing it with a pin in the first minute, just like I knew he could.”
As dominant as A.J. has been on the wrestling mat, it’s not his sport of choice.
Like father like son, A.J’s favorite place to be is on the gridiron and, according to his mentor McDaniel, that’s where he really shines.
“Football is his bread and butter,” said McDaniel. “He really wants to be a running back like his dad but A.J. is a tackle. He’s a D1 lineman right now so imagine what he’s going to be in four years if he just sticks with it and keeps working hard.”
A.J. is OK with that. While he’d love to fill the same position his father did so well more than 20 years ago, A.J. also appreciates the defensive side of the ball.
“Like that hit Jadeveon Clowney made against Michigan,” he said. “I want to do something like that.”
McDaniel, a Clemson fan, would love nothing more than to see A.J. suit up in a Tiger uniform one day although A.J. has his heart set on being the next Clowney at the University of South Carolina.
Wherever life takes A.J. four years from now, McDaniel is sure of one thing: “His father would be proud of him.”