Aug. 12, 2015
By Matt Winkeljohn | The Good Word
Jabari Hunt-Days came out from behind a curtain Tuesday, and while it did not quite qualify as his great unveiling because he was half in football gear and half out, it was good to hear from Georgia Tech’s most interesting football player.
Hunt-Days is eligible to play again, having worked through a year of academic purgatory, and Tuesday marked his return to microphones and tape recorders. For the first time, the fifth-year senior spoke about his unusual path.
He never went away, yet has been on the outside looking in; Hunt-Days practiced last season, but could not play in games after falling behind NCAA benchmarks for academic progress toward graduation.
A linebacker when he left, he’s a defensive tackle now.
Tuesday, he sounded like a man released.
“I’ve never been to jail, but I imagine it was something like [that],” Hunt-Days said of his down time. “There’s something you love that you don’t have the opportunity to do. I just swallowed my pride and did the best I could to get back.”
While re-engineering his academic and gridiron skill sets, the former Hillgrove High star earned praise. Coaches and teammates would report that he was a menace in practice, anchoring the scout team.
For so long, the games were right there, just feet away, as he stood on Tech’s sidelines close enough that he said head coach Paul Johnson and defensive line coach Mike Pelton had to tell him to back off.
When he steps through the curtain Sept. 3 against Alcorn State, Hunt-Days will be bigger. Much bigger. He’s still 6-feet-3, but quite different than when he led all Yellow Jacket linebackers with 84 tackles and assists in 2012 as a redshirt freshman. He was about 247 pounds then.
Packing about 290 pounds, Hunt-Days on Tuesday filled out a sweat-drenched, sleeveless undershirt as a 100-year Oak might stretch a sock. He looks every bit a man, and sounds ready to rock.
“Today was great, like any other day. You’ve got a go out there with the right mindset and grind,” he said after practice. “There’s a ton of motivation. There are still some things on my list to accomplishment . . . there’s still a long way to go for all of us.”
Hunt-Days played different roles in 2013, when Ted Roof became defensive coordinator.
After starting every game a year earlier, he started seven of 13 and rang up 45 tackles. He did his best work on the other side of the line of scrimmage, racking up seven tackles for lost yardage and 2.5 sacks. In 2012, he had 4.5/0.
He began transitioning to the trenches in the spring of 2014, before anyone knew he wouldn’t be eligible to play that fall.
The NCAA weighed in last summer, but Hunt-Days kept climbing his growth curve at tackle.
Senior Adam Gotsis and fourth-year junior Patrick Gamble top the depth chart there, but if Jabari plans to match the reviews he often earned while scouting last fall and spring, you’ll soon see him on the light side of the curtain.
“I’m very proud of him, proud of how he’s responded to adversity,” Roof said. “I think there’s a whole lot more out there for him than he might realize, but now is not the time to talk about it.”
Hunt-Days isn’t dwelling on the past.
“It’s completely different [on the defensive line] . . . there is a lot more hand action down in the trenches,” he said. “I kind of miss [linebacker], but I’m loving this defensive line thing.”