When Matt Hunt arrived on campus as a first-year in the Fall of 2013, he was just one of 12 quarterbacks competing for the Tigers’ starting job. Two and a half years later, Hunt is gearing up for his third career start in the Monon Bell Game.
The process of getting to this point, however, wasn’t entirely smooth.
Those first few weeks were critical for Hunt, who came out of Heritage Christian High School in Indianapolis without the fanfare of other college recruits. Let’s face it, a 5-foot-11 quarterback going to a Division III school in rural Indiana isn’t going to garner a lot of attention.
Because of this, Hunt had to simply fight to get reps in practice during that first training camp. The Tigers had two proven quarterbacks ahead of Hunt on the depth chart and he was competing with eight other first-year quarterbacks.
While others changed positions and dropped off the team, Hunt used his minimal work in practice to slowly begin distinguishing himself to the coaching staff.
“It was just a matter of making the right reads,” Hunt said. “That was kind of how I started to distinguish myself and make sure I knew what I was doing on every play we were putting in.”
When the Tigers began the season on the road at The University of the South: Sewanee, Justin Murray was the clear starter. However, after he struggled in the opener and then again against Wittenberg University the following week, the Tigers turned to Hunt.
He got his first playing time in the end of the Wittenberg game and got even more work when the Tigers traveled to Kenyon College the following week. After throwing for over 300 yards and two touchdowns in his pair of relief appearances, head coach Bill Lynch and the DePauw coaching staff threw Hunt into the mix as the Tigers’ starting quarterback in week four against Denison.
“We were zero and four [after the Denison game] but I remember getting on the bus and thinking to myself, ‘this is the guy we’re going to go with,’” Lynch said.
After starting 0-3 in 2013, Hunt led the Tigers to wins in four of their final seven games that season and the program has never looked back.
Additionally impressive about the finish to the season, was the way the rest of the offense responded to a true first-year quarterback taking over under center after just three games.
“I think that’s one of the things when you’re a head coach, team chemistry is very important,” Lynch said. “I thought the older guys responded to him and as a football team, we started having a little bit more energy.”
Hunt started every single game for the Tigers last season, putting up nearly 1800 yards and 16 touchdown passes. In his first nine starts of 2015, Hunt has continued his progression, with already over 2100 yards passing and 24 touchdowns to only three interceptions.
“A big thing with me is rhythm,” Hunt said. “I think the huge thing for me is just being in rhythm and knowing where you’re going to go with the ball.”
While Hunt’s maturation has been constant, the team around him has changed quite a lot.
During his first year with the Tigers, the DePauw passing game revolved almost entirely around throwing the ball up for wide receiver Barry Flynn who elected to play football instead of basketball during his senior year.
In 2014 the DePauw offense grew to incorporate a diverse running game as well as a more balanced receiving core.
This year, we’ve seen games where the Tigers have completed passes to eight or nine wide receivers and the running game relies on the play of three tailbacks as well as Hunt himself as a dual-threat quarterback.
While we’ve seen Hunt’s overall numbers improve, his performance in the Monon Bell game has been varied. Admittedly playing against a lot of underclassmen in a blowout game his freshman year, Hunt threw for 172 yards and three touchdowns. Last year, Hunt had a rough time, completing only six passes on the day.
Both head coach and quarterback, however, acknowledge the challenges the Bell Game presents.
“Most guys playing Division III football don’t get to play in a game like this,” Lynch said.
Hunt echoed the sentiments of his coach.
“It’s a huge game and you can’t downplay it but we can’t do anything different,” Hunt said. “We’ve just got to go out and do what we’ve done all year.”
With this year tabbed as likely the most competitive game the rivalry has seen in recent history, a lot of DePauw’s success could come down to the play of Hunt under center.
This could be amplified because the Tigers’ stable of running backs has taken a hit due to injuries in recent weeks. Without the successful running backs behind him, Hunt will likely be asked to do even more for the DePauw offense.
And as the DePauw losing streak has reached six games, the energy around campus is all about finally taking the bell back from the Little Giants. That feeling has even more resonance in the DePauw locker room.
“[Monon is] one of the oldest rivalries in college football and one that I'm honored to be a part of,” junior linebacker Tommy Gray said. “That being said, there's nothing I would want more than a victory over Wabash this weekend.”
Winning the bell would have even more impact this time around, as the victory wins the North Coast Athletic Conference championship and advances to the NCAA playoffs, where the Tigers haven’t been since 2010.
“It’s the conference championship, it’s the Monon Bell, we’ve lost six years in a row, everyone wants to be in this situation,” Hunt said. “You want to be a part of it, it’s the biggest game of our careers and of our lives. It’s something to look forward to and it’s something that we have a shot at.”
Hunt and the rest of the Tigers won’t have to wait long to find out if this is finally the year the Tigers bring the bell back to Greencastle.