April 13, 2009
By BOBBI ROQUEMORE
The Dallas Morning News
UNIVERSITY PARK – Dave Wollman was only half serious when he suggested a way for discus thrower Margus Hunt to remain at SMU.
Hunt had left his home in Estonia and paid his own tuition for a year to work with SMU women's track coach Wollman, a world-renowned throwing coach, while hoping men's track would return to the school this spring.
By November 2008, it was clear that wasn't going to happen.
Wollman turned to Hunt and said, "What do you think about football?"
Hunt, whose only football experience consisted of playing Madden NFL video games – as the Cowboys, of course – replied, "Let's try it."
So the pair approached Mustangs football coach June Jones to see if he was interested in a 6-7, 280-pound discus record holder who can squat 600 pounds.
After a tryout, Jones extended a scholarship offer. Jones said he believes Hunt, who has four seasons of football eligibility, can quickly become a contributor at defensive end.
For Hunt, it meant the best of all worlds: remaining under Wollman's watch for the discus while receiving a full scholarship at SMU, taking up a new and potentially lucrative sport and gaining 100 or so new friends.
"I never anticipated Margus' desire to play the sport," Wollman said. "I put him in their conditioning program so he could get to know the guys, and he's just loving it. He loves the guys and the coaches. He's just happy."
During the first few days of spring practice, Hunt, 21, blended in with the rest of the Mustangs as they brushed up on tackling and timing. Hunt believes he and the Mustangs are on to something special.
"I used to think that team sports were not for me," Hunt said. "When I saw this team here and how it's developing into a much better team, I totally changed my mind and I looked at team sports differently. It's fun."
A hero at home
As perhaps the only SMU football player with his own Wikipedia page, Hunt's reputation precedes him. In 2004, the 16-year-old Hunt set a youth world record of 228 feet with the lighter youth discus and placed sixth in the World Junior Championships.
Hunt is a near-national hero in Estonia, a country on the Baltic Sea in northern Europe. He is proud of his heritage. His last name translates to "wolf" in English, and he sports a tattoo of the creature on his left arm. He was born in Karksi-Nuia in 1987, just before the end of the Cold War.
Hunt played soccer until an injury sidelined him at age 10. He was introduced to the discus at 12 and quickly ascended to the top of the track and field circuit. At the 2006 World Junior Championships in Beijing, he set a world junior record of 220-10 in the discus and a national record of 67-4 ¼ with the six-kilogram shot put to became the first person to win both events at the meet.
Hunt's prowess caught the eye of Estonian thrower Aleksander Tammert, a four-time Olympian and 2004 discus bronze medalist. Tammert, who attended SMU in the mid-1990s when SMU had a men's track team, alerted Wollman. Wollman was immediately impressed with Hunt's long arms and athleticism. Hunt jumped at the chance to train with him.
"He's got a gift of power that rarely comes with a guy that size," Wollman said. "His acceleration rate is ridiculous. His feet are lightning-fast. His strength levels are higher than anybody I've ever had."
Strength and conditioning coach Vic Viloria was among the first to picture Hunt on the football field.
"You'd watch him over there lifting, and as a strength coach, you drool," Viloria said. "From Day 1, it was [up to me] to see what I can do to inject a little bit of football into him. Every time he'd come by the office, he'd say hello and I'd toss him a football."
The idea grew on Hunt. Jones was also on board.
"The things that got our attention were his work ethic and the quality of his determination to be the best ... because he's a world-class athlete," Jones said. "Those guys have different mentalities, and we need that."
Hunt had two weeks to prepare for his workout in November for Jones and defensive coordinator Tom Mason. Viloria, a former Mustangs linebacker, gave Hunt a crash course in football, teaching him everything from how to tackle to what cleats he should wear.
"He'd never run a shuttle in his life and, bam! – all of a sudden, there it is," Mason said. "If he had grown up in the United States where they played football, he would have wound up at Texas or Oklahoma."
All Hunt has to do now is get used to the nuances of football, like wearing a helmet and taking hits in the mouth.
"The main thing is that he has instincts," tackle Kelvin Beachum Jr. said. "That's what football is about, being able to react. It's something that's natural to him. There's really not much to work on – just putting the pads on and learning. He's a fast learner, so that should be easy."
Height, weight: 6-7, 280
Position: Defensive end
Weight room: Bench presses 418 pounds, cleans 375, squats 600
Discus throw: Has until mid-July to reach the qualifying standard of 205 feet, 1 inch with the international discus to become eligible for the World Championships in August. His goal is to represent Estonia in the 2012 Olympics in London.
Notable: Tallest member of his family. His mother, Eda Hunt, is 5-6 and his father, Matti Villemson, is 6-0. ... Older sister Kairi Hunt also competed in track and field. ... Played on a high school basketball team in Estonia that reached the Final Four of its tournament.
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