Editor’s Note: The football season gets under way this Friday when the Union County High School Yellow Jackets hosts the Chapman Panthers at the Union County Stadium and the Whitmire Community School Wolverines hosts the Wagener-Salley War Eagles at Legends Stadium. Both games will begin at 7:30 p.m. The start of the football season also means it is time for The Union Times’ Football Tab which is being published in today’s edition of the newspaper. The tab features team rosters, games schedules, and profiles of the teams, features on UCHS players and the team’s new coach. It’s a handy guide to the football season that you’ll definitely want to keep. Below is a profile about one of the members of Union County High School Yellow Jackets, AJ Hunter, a fine young man who not only loves the game, but also knows the importance of character.
UNION COUNTY — 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 6 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 said the loss of his father at an early age — and the guidance he has received from others since then — has molded him and his goals for the future.
The newest guide in AJ’s life is Union County Head Coach Bradley Adams. AJ said Adams is a very good coach and a Christian man who is always there for his players.
Adams said AJ is an essential part of this year’s Yellow Jackets defense.
“AJ is a guy we’ve got to have to be successful in our program,” Adams said. “With the focus on our defense, we will rely heavily on him to control the line of scrimmage.”
Adams also said there is more than just the defensive lineman’s power and talent on the field that makes him valuable to the team.
“AJ is also someone we rely heavily on as far as leadership is concerned,” Adams said. “He branches out as much as he can for other people, and we appreciate that.”
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 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 get competitive with me when I do it.”
AJ also strives to be a leader in the community as well.
Over the summer — between football practices — AJ volunteered numerous times as a coach/mentor at the Union County Recreation Department Summer Sports Camp. He said he enjoys providing guidance to children who need it, like he did as a young child.
“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.”
AJ worked to teach those character traits to the children who attended the summer camps.
“It’s fun to spend time with those kids,” 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 tried to help teach campers about the importance of attitude as well as basics in all sports. He said he worked 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.
AJ is a senior this year and a member of the UCHS Beta Club. He looks forward to taking concurrent classes at USC Union to prepare him for college next year. His plan is to go to college to play both football and baseball and major in physical education so he can become a coach.
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.”