What makes Chucky Hunter go?
What makes the Free State High tailback shoot through holes in the offensive line? What makes him shake and shift his way around opposing tacklers with electricity week after week?
Is it his 4.7-second speed in the 40-yard dash? Is it his powerful legs and low center of gravity? Is it his big and talented offensive line that he has learned to trust and come to count on night after night?
In a word, yes. But a single word does not do justice to the talent and importance of the Firebirds' leading rusher.
"He's got it all," Free State coach Bob Lisher said. "He could use another step on speed, but he's still fast enough to get the job done. He has great balance and the ability to make people miss, and he's got enough power to break tackles when people get to him."
Hunter is to Free State football what Reggie Bush is to the New Orleans Saints - a little bit of showtime with a lot of talent.
Funny thing, too. Bush happens to be one of Hunter's favorite backs in today's game.
His favorite of all time, however, the man Hunter began emulating as a second-grader on the playgrounds and in the back yard with his brother and cousins, happens to be the most elusive running back of all time.
"My favorite running back growing up was Barry Sanders," Hunter said.
In his first season as the Firebirds' featured back, Hunter leads the team in rushing attempts (120) and yards (840). His 14 rushing touchdowns put him on top among all Sunflower League running backs and his 7.0 yards-per-carry average makes him one of the best backs in the Sunflower League. Coach Lisher takes it a step further.
"He's another one of the great backs to come out of Lawrence and has a chance to accomplish anything he wants as long as he keeps working hard," Lisher said. "Right now he's on a roll and we hope he keeps rolling."
Even with so many impressive stats, Hunter stays true to himself. It's not the pursuit of statistics, the flattering publicity or the impersonation of his idols that make Hunter go. It's something much simpler.
"I've been doing it for a long time and it's something I love to do," he said. "My family, my brother and my cousin got me started and I've been doing it ever since. I realize that I have talent and I feel lucky to have it. I just try to use it to help my team and to have some fun."
So far, so good.
Hunter kicked off his junior season in style, taking the first snap from scrimmage 61 yards to set up a Firebirds touchdown. Less than three minutes later he wowed the crowd again with a 99-yard kickoff return for a touchdown. For those keeping track, that's 160 yards and a touchdown on his first two touches of the year.
"I don't get to watch him that often because I'm usually in there blocking, but it's really exciting to chase him down the field yelling after he breaks a big run," junior lineman Grahm Saunders said. "He can change directions just like that. You never know which way he's going to go. He keeps people guessing."
Occassionally, Hunter even outguesses himself. Because his vision enables him to focus downfield, barely blinking at the action around him, Hunter runs on his toes, constantly looking to jab step here or spin there to free himself for a big run. To some, the tip-toe running style seems too flashy, but Hunter insists it's just the way he runs.
"I don't try to be showtime," he said. "Maybe with my shoes and everything I wear and because I shake and move out there I am. But I don't try to be."
With his skill set, it's hard to avoid.
"He's a lot shiftier than any running back I've seen," said senior lineman Scott Williams, who started on the line last year and opened holes for 2007 graduates Ryan and Brian Murphy. "I think he's on the same level with them. He's not as fast as they were, but he makes people miss. As long as he's getting yards, we're happy. Besides, that just makes us look better."
Looking good is the one thing Hunter does with relative ease. Even his one- and two-yard gains have substance. Ultimately, however, Hunter wants to win. That's why he's taken steps to make himself a more complete football player in his second season with the Firebirds.
"In the past, I just got the ball and ran," he said. "But I've learned how to read my line, I've learned how to work with them and I've become more patient as a running back. We talk a lot and communicate well and that's why we have success. I'm gonna feed them. My mom will make a big meal to take care of them. They've done a lot for me."
Behind Hunter's legs, the Firebirds have tallied a 5-2 record heading into Friday's second district game against Lawrence High.
Hunter played in the LHS game, last year - as a receiver. This year, he expects the game to have much more meaning.
"It's a different feeling, knowing I'm going to get the ball, knowing I'm going to be a part of it," he said. "I can't wait. I've been looking forward to this game since, I'd say, fourth grade."