Each offseason, Inside the Gators interviews departing seniors and early-entry juniors for our "Parting Shots" series profiling former Gators.
Up today is the first of a two-part interview with defensive tackle Omar Hunter.
ITG: You were a much-hyped five-star recruit in high school. What was that experience like?
Hunter: "It was crazy. It was wild. I committed to Notre Dame first and I was really excited about going there. I was committed to them for about two years. Things started to change a little bit at Notre Dame, and then I decided to reconsider my own decision. I went down to an all-star game in Orlando. I spent some time with people who were going to Florida. I met Janoris Jenkins and Will Hill and some of those guys. I just felt right then that was the best fit for me."
ITG: What kind of pressure is involved with being a top-tier recruit?
Hunter: "It's a lot of pressure. People tried to say when I was getting recruited that the coaches put a lot of pressure on me, but I didn't feel like they did. My high school coach, coach (Jess) Simpson, did a good job of not letting me hear some of the things that were being said about me during the time I was being recruited. I was really focused on my senior year in high school, so I really didn't have much time to think about what other teams and colleges were saying about me."
ITG: Urban Meyer infamously called you the "Tim Tebow of the defense" at various Gator Club gatherings. What were his expectations for you and what was he like during your recruiting process?
Hunter: "He was a great recruiter first of all. He came and talked to my parents and my parents really fell in love with him from the start. He never promised me anything. He told me it was going to be tough to come in and start. It's Florida. They've got a lot of competition and a lot of talent there. It was never going to be easy and that was probably the No. 1 thing that I respected about coach Meyer. He never lied to me or told me anything that wasn't true during the recruiting process."
ITG: You flip from Notre Dame to Florida and then defensive line coach Greg Mattison leaves for the National Football League as soon as you get there. Did you feel deceived?
Hunter: "Yeah, that was probably the hardest part during my recruiting process with coach Meyer coming into my house and saying coach Mattison was going to be there. Then it seems like right after I sign my national letter of intent, he left. That kind of stunned me and my parents a little bit, but coach Meyer came out the next day. Then coach (Dan) McCarney, our new D-line coach after that, he came in and I met him and felt pretty comfortable. I still felt good about my decision to go to Florida."
ITG: After all the assistant coaches you went through, you finally came into your own under Dan Quinn and Bryant Young. Why was that?
Hunter: "When coach Muschamp and his staff came in - coach Young and coach Quinn - that was one of the best things to happen to me while I was at Florida. Those guys really just sat me down and told me the truth about my game. They told me what I needed to do to improve, and I took it to heart and tried to get better at it. I owe those guys almost everything as far as me developing as a player. They really got me on the right track and I can't thank them enough for that. Coach Young is like a father figure to me. I talk to him about different things. I really look up to him and he's really been a great coach to me."
ITG: What did they bring out of you that hadn't been found yet?
Hunter: "They just made me reevaluate myself and really take notice of what I needed to get better at. Coach Young especially was on me every day and made me not miss practice or not let any reps go by. As far as my junior year, he did a lot of that. But going into my senior year, I learned so much from him that I didn't need him to be on me as much my senior year. He just taught me how to be a man and grow up. I think that's going to carry me a long way."
ITG: There are a million stories about what happened during Meyer's last two years in Gainesville. What was it like being on the team at that time?
Hunter: "Being a young guy, it was a little bit confusing. I didn't know what was going to be next. Some of the older guys, they didn't have to worry about it as much as the younger guys because they were leaving and going on to new things. For the young guys, there was a lot of confusion going on. Is he staying? Is he coming back? We really didn't know what was going on at that point. He retired and came back and then everybody thought it was going to be good. And then he retired again shortly after. Guys really took it personally. They didn't want to be at Florida. The older guys kind of put their arms around them and told them to stick together and the guys that stayed and came together, that's the reason the team was turned around the way it was this year."
ITG: Did you feel like Meyer was all there in 2010?
Hunter: "I feel like he was there. It's hard, whatever condition he had, I don't know too much about it as far as his health goes. When he was at practice, he still seemed like the same old coach. It wasn't until the end of the process where I kind of felt like he calmed himself down a little bit and didn't put all himself into it. For the most part, I felt like he was all into it."
ITG: Was there any underlying resentment when he took the Ohio State job?
Hunter: "At that point, I didn't care. I had coach Muschamp in my life and that was the best thing that had ever happened to me. When he came back, I didn't care one bit. I felt like the guys who were there when Urban was there didn't care because we had a new coaching staff and we were really in love with those guys. I don't think it affected us at all. I feel like if you ask the fans, they took it more personally than we did. They were a little bit more upset. Guys on the team, for the most part they understand that he had to make a living for his family. He had to do what's best for him. We're OK with that, but we were happy with the new coaches we got and we pressed forward with them."
ITG: You talk highly of Muschamp, but what was it like when he first came to Florida? Was it culture shock at all for this team?
Hunter: "It was definitely what we needed. Toward the end of coach Meyer's years, the team started to get lost. We didn't know the direction the program was going to go in. When coach Muschamp brought his style to Florida, everything changed. It was so much more disciplined., not from when coach Meyer was there but just from when he was on his way out. Things were confusing. Coach Muschamp, he straightened everything out for us. He got us back on the right track."
ITG: So you bought in, but were there guys who that wasn't the case for and was that in any way a rough transition?
Hunter: "I'm sure a few guys had more trouble adapting to it than others because that little bit of a period before he came, there wasn't that much discipline. Then you have a guy that's straight discipline that comes in, I think it is a little bit tougher to adjust to. But for the most part, guys really bought in to everything we did."
ITG: Fans know the screaming sideline version of Muschamp. What's he like to deal with on a daily basis?
Hunter: "He cares about his players. He's approachable. You can go up to him and talk and have any kind of conversation with him. No matter who you are, offensive or defensive guy, a walk-on or full scholarship, you can always go to coach Muschamp and have a conversation with him. He's honest. He's going to tell you the truth every day. If you're great, he's going to tell you you're great. If you're not doing well, he's going to tell you you're not doing well. He's not going to beat around the bush with you. That's what I respect the most about him. He's straight-forward and honest and he really cares about his guys."
ITG: There were plenty of struggles in 2011. What was going through your mind throughout the year?
Hunter: "It was a building process. I didn't think it was going to be as rough as it was, but I think we needed to go through that in order to get where we were this past year. Those seniors who were on that team, they did the right thing by trying to lead a team with new coaches and a new staff. This senior year, we tried to build off what they did for us. The offseason we had after 2011, it was pretty rough. Guys were staying together, whether they were watching extra film together or hanging out outside of football. The guys really came together on that team and that's why we were so improved this past year."
ITG: Muschamp seemed more composed on the sidelines his second year compared to his first year. Did you sense that at all?
Hunter: "Yeah, I did. Coach Muschamp to me is the same guy each and every day. What one person see in him is a fiery guy and we see the same thing. That's our coach. That's our football team. That's the personality that we take on when we go out to play. It was a little bit of a difference but he still had the same passion."
ITG: Did some of that come from learning to be a head coach as opposed to a coordinator?
Hunter: "Yeah, I definitely think it was different from anything he has ever done, being a head coach, being the sole leader of the team and leading it in the right direction. But he did a great job and I'm so thankful for him."
ITG: How good of a feeling was it to go out as a senior on a positive note in 2012?
Hunter: "I enjoyed it. It was one of the best years of my life. To me, I would say it was better than winning a national championship because we were in this thing together and we really had to fight through adversity to get where we were at. To come off two down years and be able to say you got Florida back to where it's supposed to be, it really feels good to leave your senior year with that feeling."
ITG: What was the mindset of the Gators heading into this season? Was it angry or an attitude of trying to prove people wrong?
Hunter: "Not to prove anybody wrong but just to play for each other. We didn't care about what anybody else said about us or about what rankings had on us. It was about just everybody play as one and play together. That was the most important thing. We didn't want to play for our coaches or anything. We wanted to play for each other. The guys that were on the field together, the guys that were on the sideline. Play for one another."
Coming in part two, Hunter talks about what UF players to look out for in the future, Dan Quinn's departure for the NFL, fatherhood and more.