Running back Kendall Hunter finds himself in an unfamiliar position.
After being selected by the 49ers in the fourth-round of the 2011 NFL Draft, the 26-year-old running back out of Oklahoma State University had been the tried and trusted choice to back up longtime running back Frank Gore, averaging 4.6 yards per-carry throughout his first three seasons of service.
Now, just one year removed from an ACL injury that derailed his 2014 season before it even began, Hunter finds himself without his trusted mentor ,and with no guarantee of playing time behind a stable of veterans and talented young backs who are hungry to make their mark in the NFL.
After fighting back from two potentially career altering injuries — an Achilles tear in 2012 and last year’s ACL injury — Hunter has learned not to shy away from adversity, but to embrace it:
“I think it’s real good. We got a lot of running backs, a lot of talent, and I think it’s great, I love it. We got a good group that can compete, and not only help each other, but help the team. So I’m excited.”
Friday afternoon, Hunter took a majority of the workload out of the backfield with presumed starter Carlos Hyde still being held out of action with a muscle injury, and fourth-round pick Mike Davis absent while representing the 49ers at the 2015 NFLPA’s Rookie Premiere event in Los Angeles.
The slow pace and non-contact nature of OTAs leaves much to be seen, but Hunter looked spry while making cuts Friday afternoon.
Perhaps just as important as Hunter’s physical capability to bounce back is his ability to mentally overcome his injury.
After linebacker NaVorro Bowman admitted he was still battling the mental aspects of rehabilitation, Hunter stated that there was no doubt that he would be able to play a full game at this point, showing a strong mental toughness for a young player battling back from a tough injury.
” I feel like any injury will show you how much you love the game and motive you. You know, what are you gonna do when you’re able to be healthy? What are you gonna do? So that makes me take advantage of every opportunity that I have.”
But despite stating that his knee feels “great” after participating in this week’s OTA’s, Hunter knows that his road to recovery will last throughout the rest of the season, and possibly beyond.
“Once you hurt something, I feel like you’ll always mess with it, even if it aint hurt. Just stay healthy and be ready to go.”
After two brutal injuries in his young career, there’s no telling how Hunter’s body will hold up during the 2015 season. But with a cheerful demeanor and smile, it looks as if the one thing that is unbreakable is his fighting spirit.