One look is enough.
Watching from the sideline during an Aurora Christian practice, it’s easy to see that Braden Hunter is a force to be reckoned with at the right tackle as he takes snaps against the defense.
No one, it seems, escapes him.
Watching the 6-foot-5, 280-pound senior work for the Eagles, it’s also understandable that coach David Beebe is happy to have Hunter on his side.
“Just look at the kid,” Beebe said. “He looks like a monster.”
Hunter is certainly imposing, but his game is more than just brute force.
A third-year college player, Hunter starts on both sides of the line for the Eagles.
“He actually moves very, very well,” Beebe said. “Braden’s technique has improved a lot. It was difficult at first.
Hunter has been through a lot in a short time.
In fall 2020, his second season was pushed back by the pandemic to spring 2021. This was quickly followed by his junior season last fall.
Playing those seasons in the middle of a growth spurt helped him grow “really fast,” Beebe said. “Now he has also matured as a leader.”
He is well received by the coaching staff as the Eagles are a young team with only six seniors on the roster.
Grant Henderson, a 6-foot-4, 205-pound senior, is also a two-way starter. He’s a bookend for Hunter on the offensive side at left tackle, where he’s played since he was a sophomore.
“I felt like Grant seemed like a better left tackle for us at the time,” Beebe said. “I don’t know if I expected Braden’s technique to become as solid as it is, but he mixes raw strength with his footwork.”
And that footwork was enhanced by Hunter’s work in wrestling, his other sport. He finished fourth last season in the Class 2A state competition. In July, he qualified in freestyle and Greco-Roman wrestling for the U.S. Junior National Wrestling Championships in Fargo, North Dakota.
He, however, decided not to go due to a busy schedule with work and Aurora Christian’s summer camp.
Hunter, who lives in Plano, worked six days a week at his grandfather’s landscaping business.
“I was working all day, coming home and lifting and then going to football,” Hunter said. “I followed a strict schedule.”
Competing in either sport at the top level remains a possibility, but Hunter is leaning towards soccer.
“I started with football and never took a break,” Hunter said. “I’ve been doing a lot more work on my football performances recently.”
But which side of the ball?
Last season, Hunter led Aurora Christian’s defense with 13 1/2 tackles for loss, including seven sacks. He finished with 43 tackles and forced five fumbles.
“I like giving them that little hug and just kicking the ball,” Hunter said.
Beebe described Hunter as “an absolute terror on both lines” during his junior season. He works on his preference.
“Defense is fun, but I would have to say offense if I had to choose between the two,” Hunter said. “Something just drew me more towards the offense.”
He attended camps in Illinois, North Central College and Southern Illinois last spring and summer.
“North Central was definitely my favorite and best side,” said Hunter, who has had interest but no offers yet. “There was a segment where we did one-on-ones where the college coaches were able to call the players to go head-to-head.
“I’d like to say I did a good job in that.”
That continued Friday night when Hunter made nine tackles in a 26-20 loss to Ottawa Marquette in the season opener.
Giving up big scores late in each half proved to be the difference.
“Our young people are coming out,” Beebe said. “We have to learn how to close a game.”
Hunter expects the Eagles to bounce back.
“We have a lot of young guys with raw potential,” he said. “Older guys need to step up, reach out and prepare them and put them in a mindset where nothing can stop them.
“Put in to work, you’ll get there.”