Injuries are never a good thing for a football team.
They're to be expected, of course, what with the nature of the game. It's a rough and tumble sport and making it through a season unscathed is a big accomplishment.
But even knowing that, it still takes the wind out of the sails of a team when a player goes down - especially a cornerstone athlete such as Kendall Hunter.
And while his injury played a part in what was considered a disappointing season for Oklahoma State in 2009, his return in 2010 is almost akin to a big free agent signing.
After suffering an ankle injury against Houston a year ago this upcoming weekend, he ended up missing most of the season, accumulating only 382 yards and one touchdown on 89 carries. That's obviously a sharp decline from his 241-carry, 1,555-yard, 16-TD performance in 2008.
So, last season OSU lost an All-America tailback. That was painful and it was a big setback.
But the good news there is that, in 2010, OSU gains an All-America tailback. With last season in the rear-view, Hunter is back to 100 percent and is looking like he's going to pick up where he left off two years ago. Yeah, yeah, Washington State is a horrible team, but what Spud did to the Cougars is amazing, even for Hunter. Twenty-one carries, 257 yards, four touchdowns. All in roughly 2 ½ quarters. He could have had a 400-yard day and seven or eight scores. It was an explosive performance.
Anyone worrying how he'd rebound this season likely has their answer already. The post-injury recovery is over. His overdrive gear is back and the mental worry about running on the field has melted away. It's obvious he's fully-confident in his abilities and has even improved his approach - his over-juking appears to be gone, for example.
This is great news for a Cowboy program that is supposed to be in transition in 2010. Most have written off OSU as a team in rebuilding mode, but with Hunter doing this, he might just be a one-man reloading team. He is a special runner and very hard to stop.
And with the addition of a smart-armed quarterback in Brandon Weeden, it will be hard for opponents to stack the line to try and contain Hunter. Weeden has shown very special skills in finding his target and making solid throws. Once teams start adjusting to him being a threat throwing the ball, Hunter will have an easier route to the end zone.
The prospects of Hunter this season have already jumped into hyperdrive. Obviously, he won't keep up a 3,300-yard pace throughout the season, but if he can replicate this kind of performance all year long, he should easily re-gain his All-America tag, not to mention being in the running for major national awards as well. Kendall takes Manhattan, anyone?
Maybe not, as the Heisman anymore is just a team/popularity award. But, as Barry Sanders showed in 1988, a huge season numbers-wise will force people to notice you, even if you're not from a power school. Hunter has that ability and that chance to do the same thing.
After only one week of football, the Big 12 feels pretty wide-open. Texas and Oklahoma didn't look especially impressive. There just might be a chance for OSU to make a run in a season in which they weren't supposed to. And if they do, it will be because of Hunter. This team will go as far as he can carry them and another nine-win season could be the result if that happens.
Justin Wilmeth is the editor of OStateIllustrated.com. He can be contacted via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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