Donâ€™t let his laid-back demeanor and soft-spoken words fool you. As quickly as a smile appears on his face is how bad he wants to beat you.
Thatâ€™s advice all Southern Piedmont defensive backs could have used before the season. But when it comes to East Lincoln senior wideout Thomas Huntley, had they heeded that advice it probably wouldnâ€™t have mattered.
Not when youâ€™re dealing with a 6â€™1 receiver, who plays like heâ€™s 6â€™3â€, an athlete who high jumps 6â€™10â€ and runs the 400 meters in 51 seconds.
Observers that have watched the Mustangs play, must be wondering the same thing, â€˜Why didnâ€™t he play like this last year?â€™
Blessed with great athleticism, the young man known as â€˜Thome,â€™ appeared disenchanted and largely unmotivated last season. This season, heâ€™s anything but.
â€œHeâ€™s done what weâ€™ve asked him to this year. He leads by example. Heâ€™s a pretty quiet kid, but he has a lot of fun out there and the kids love being around him,â€ Mustangsâ€™ head coach Mike Byus said. â€œWe love having him around. Heâ€™s just a really good kid,â€ he added.
Huntley is the conferenceâ€™s leading receiver with 47 catches for 717 yards and seven touchdowns. Averaging 15.3 per reception, Huntley has been the model teammate and is a joy being around, according to Byus.
â€œI couldnâ€™t speak on anything negative of Thomas Huntley. All Iâ€™ve seen is a nice young man. You see people who enjoy being a good athlete, thatâ€™s him,â€ Byus said, finding it hard to believe Huntleyâ€™s attitude was questionable and at worst bad last season, depending on who you ask.
â€œHe can jump in the air and hang in the air forever. Heâ€™s not one to rub it in anyoneâ€™s face either. If he was considered to not to be a nice young man in the past, I canâ€™t speak to that because I havenâ€™t seen that side of him,â€ Byus added.
Sadly, but in candid fashion (his honesty should be applauded), Huntley admits he â€˜didnâ€™t care,â€™ last season. So what has made the difference in realizing his potential this year?
â€œThe coaches,â€ Huntley said. â€œI like them. I they know what theyâ€™re doing. They act crazy, like theyâ€™re my age, but I still know theyâ€™re my coaches.â€
One play epitomizes the difference between the past two seasons in Huntley. It came on a botched option play with the game already decided.
Newton Conoverâ€™s Zack Merriken rumbled 86 yards for a touchdown, but instead of Huntley watching him run down the field, Huntley hawked him down twice trying to strip the ball both times.
Although his effort was in vain, Huntleyâ€™s football knowledge (knowing they needed to get the ball back) and leadership by example should be commended.
With a win versus cross-county rival West Lincoln tonight at home, East would, for all intensive purposes, secure a 2A State Playoff spot.
After starting the season 0-4, many wondered how good East Lincoln was. Winning four out of five ballgames, and playing Lincolnton tic-for-tac (with the exception of a three minute meltdown) has answered that question.
For Huntley, who names God and his mom Pat as his biggest influences, the playoff dreams being realized would be met with open arms.
â€œI would like to go. It would be my first time going. I wasnâ€™t expecting us to make it at the beginning, because of how last year went,â€ he said.
One thing is for certain, as frustrated as some fans were with his play in the past, are as pleased with the way heâ€™s tearing defensive backs apart in the present.
While Huntley, who has formed a close friendship with Coach Miller (his defensive backs coach), may not be a one-man band, without him the Mustangsâ€™ opponents would have been able to load up on the run, in an attempt to stop electrifying senior running back Ryan Sykes. With No. 1 on the field, they canâ€™t.
â€œHeâ€™s played a huge part. Heâ€™s been what weâ€™ve needed from a lot of seniors, as far as helping keep the team together when we werenâ€™t winning,â€ Byus said.
The script couldnâ€™t have been more perfect. Tonight is senior nightâ€”more importantly, itâ€™s also the night Huntley can finally exorcise the demons of the past.
A standout in track and on the gridiron, Huntley really doesnâ€™t have a preference which sport he would like to play in college.
â€œI wouldnâ€™t mind which one I do, but I need something to keep me occupied and out of trouble,â€ Huntley said.
One thingâ€™s for certain, his college opponents better heed the previous given advice.
by John Mark Brooks