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Soulmates: Hunter Lee and Louisiana Tech share passion for service, success

The college career of Hunter Lee is a blueprint of how things are designed to work out between a student and a university.

Louisiana Tech offered Lee opportunity — athletically, academically and socially — and made available to him all sorts of tools for him to use to pursue whatever dreams he wanted. A senior from Flower Mound, Texas, Lee accepted it all. He’ll graduate in the spring with a degree in industrial engineering, and on Friday the four-year letterman and former walk-on will play his final college football game in his hometown’s backyard when Louisiana Tech meets the University of Illinois in the Zaxby’s Heart of Dallas Bowl at noon in the Cotton Bowl.

Hunter Lee

Hunter Lee

“I was intimidated when I first got to Tech, a little walk-on from Texas,” said the 5-10, 199-pound Lee, who’s played running back and receiver and returned kicks for the Bulldogs. “But the players were great to me, very accepting. The coaches have been awesome. Since the day I got here, they’ve shot straight with me. That’s all you can ask for: a fair shot.”

Lee has earned a well-deserved reputation as a fan favorite, but his impact on his school — and Tech’s impact on him — reaches far beyond the football field.

“When I talk to anyone back home in Texas and they ask me about Tech, I tell them that as far as the town of Ruston goes, I’ve never met such kind-hearted, loving people,” he said. “I know people between ages 19 to 65 who I’ll stay in touch with for the rest of my life. I’ve had the chance to build relationships over such a broad age spectrum. This is a great place with awesome people; I’ve had a blast here.”

He’s made the most of his time and of his relationships. He’s president of the school’s Fellowship of Christian Athletes, on the Student-Athlete Advisory Committee and an active member of The Bridge, Lee’s Ruston church family. In mid-December, Conference USA named Lee as Tech’s recipient of the Fall Spirit of Service Award, designed to recognize the community service efforts of the league’s student-athletes.

“My dad read about it online and called to congratulate me and I had no idea what he was talking about,” Lee said. “I just started laughing. ‘What do you mean?’ But him and my Mom didn’t make a big deal out of it. They just sort of said, ‘Well, that’s just Hunter.’”

His contagious attitude has helped make him a dependable player and friend. “I might never get a chance to coach another kid like him, and I plan to coach a long time,” said Tech receivers coach Joe Sloan. “To finish his college career in his hometown in a bowl game, that’s a scenario that’s great for him. He deserves it.”

He laughed when thinking of the beginning of his noteworthy time at Tech and what he might do differently if he had his career to begin again. “I wish someone had told me how hard industrial engineering could be, and I wish they’d drilled into me time management,” he said. “These four years in it have been fun, but I’ve had to learn how to advocate my time to certain things to get things done, whether it’s FCA or football or studying or all the school work I’ve had to do. But praise the Lord, I’ve been level-headed throughout the whole thing. Sometimes I’ve thought I’d pick a different subject if I had it to do over again, but then I don’t regret a second of it because of all the people I’ve got to meet.

“I choose engineering because I’ve always been interested in how things work, in designing things,” he said. “I had some job ideas, but I really didn’t know what I’d do after graduation. I still don’t. I really feel like I’m being led toward the ministry, but who knows? I have no idea, but I’m not worried about it.”

A lot of Hunter Lee is about planning, but a big part of him is doing things as they come up, as the opportunities present themselves. For instance, one morning he woke up and decided he wanted a tattoo. Two hours later, he had a Bible verse inked on his right bicep.

“Deuteronomy 31:6,” he said. “It’s ‘Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the Lord your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you.’

“That verse is near and dear to my heart,” Lee said. “I came here a little white guy trying to play against these huge, high-caliber football guys and just decided I was going to have to be able to keep up no matter what. This verse tells me that no matter what you face in life, I can be strong and have courage because my God is with me. I don’t have anything to worry about, not with school or football or even my family.”

He needed that kind of assurance Oct. 25 when he broke his collarbone in a game against Southern Mississippi. When he found out it was broken, “I just started bawling,” he said. “It wasn’t about me. I felt I couldn’t be there for my teammates. I wanted to be in the trenches suffering with them. I thought I was done playing, but they still had things to achieve. So I took on the role of cheerleader, anything I could do to help and encourage them to play the best they could.”

He also started catching footballs a week after surgery, which “freaked my parents out” and “drove our trainers crazy,” he said. “But I was just doing what I could without re-injuring it. If there was a chance I could play, I didn’t want to miss it.”

Five weeks and three games after breaking his collarbone, Lee caught four passes in his final game at Joe Aillet Stadium as the Bulldogs wrapped up the West Division title of Conference USA with a 76-31 victory over Rice.

“I’m SO thankful for that,” said Lee, who once again, somehow, beat the odds.

Despite the demands of football, school and his commitment to be a servant in a selfish world, Lee has still found time to hunt with his friends, to shoot his bow, to ride four-wheelers, and to eat, every chance he gets, the California Burrito at El Jarrito Mexican Grill on Farmerville Highway. “It compares pretty good to the chimichanga at Cristina’s in Flower Mound,” he said, another example of how he’s made Ruston his home away from home.

“You take football out of it, and Louisiana Tech is still where I needed to be,” he said. “It’s been crazy to see God reveal to me year after year his plan, and how and why things worked out the way they did. It’s been an awesome experience.”

Written by Teddy Allen – teddy@latech.edu