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TAMPA — Tampa Catholic football coach Bob Henriquez admits he had his concerns. He didn’t know how hulking newcomer Hunter Joyer would accept his new role as a piece of the Crusaders’ championship puzzle.
Joyer came to Tampa Catholic having rushed for 1,000 yards the season before at Wesley Chapel, where he was the featured back. As the Crusaders’ starting fullback, he’d just be one part of a backfield of stars with All-America quarterback Christian Green and fleet-footed tailback Hank McCloud.
But Joyer flourishes in technique, not glory. He learned that from being a champion weightlifter, a sport where every detail is critiqued. And for Joyer, who has become an impact player on both sides of the ball, he just might be the difference in Tampa Catholic winning a state title after two years of falling short.
“It’s just about the team now,” Joyer said. “It’s not about individuals. As long as we’re winning I’m happy.”
The Crusaders (10-1) travel across the state to face Hollywood Chaminade (12-0) in Friday’s Class 2B state semifinals — a trip to next week's state championship game at the Citrus Bowl in Orlando on the line.
The 6-foot, 240-pound Joyer will not only be the Crusaders’ starting fullback, he will be on defense — playing inside linebacker, defensive end — and, on goal-line stands, nose tackle. He will also be on the punt and kickoff return teams.
Turns out there’s been plenty of room on this Tampa Catholic team for Hunter Joyer.
“I wasn’t sure what kind of kid he’d be,” Henriquez said. “To ask him to accept a new role like that, you wonder. But really from the beginning, he’s been like a sponge trying to soak up the game and accept whatever role was designated for him.
“He knew his chances would come. And he’s brought so many added dimensions.”
This is the first season Joyer has played defense full time. He played sparsely as a freshman and got time at defensive end last year, but he’s still learning. He has 28 tackles and is tied for the team lead with three sacks.
“I’m improving a lot,” Joyer said. “It’s getting a lot better. I’m starting to get used to it and getting used to defense. It’s different from everything else. Anything different is something new and something fun.”
But fullback is where he fits best, and where his future might be. He has broad shoulders, and thick thighs that can squat 510 pounds but also boasts a rare explosiveness and can run a 4.6 40 time.
He has for 430 yards rushing and six scores, and seven catches for 93 yards out of the backfield. But looking at the numbers of his teammates might indicate more. He has been the lead blocker for McCloud’s 1,300-yard season and has been key to TC’s 31 rushing touchdowns.
“He’s been a real spark for our offense,” Henriquez said. “He knew his chances would come and that he would share in Hank’s success when he was blocking and help the team when his number was called catching the ball out of the backfield or running the ball or getting a first down or what have you. He’s a very grounded, humble young man.”
Colleges have taken notice. He has a scholarship offer from Louisville, where his brother, former Wesley Chapel lineman Kamran, plays. Florida State, Florida, Georgia and Notre Dame have also shown interest.
“He’s been a real plus for us,” Henriquez said. “Just a hard worker. Everything you want in a football player.”