By Coley Harvey
TALLAHASSEE - By the end of the night, Tyler Hunter's eardrums were throbbing.
Virtually every time the Florida State defensive back and punt returner came back to the sideline against Virginia Tech, someone was in his face. They seldom looked pleasant.
Coaches were looking for answers from the sophomore: Why were you burned by that receiver? Why did you look away right before you dropped that punt? How come you let that other punt roll instead of fair-catching it?
And on they went.
All Hunter could do was listen, digest and try to do better.
With 27 seconds left, he did better all right. His game-ending interception helped turn him from pariah into hero.
His season has been a roller coaster much like that game, and Hunter is hopeful the final weeks will smooth out.
His teammates think it will.
"I'm really starting to see it," junior cornerback Xavier Rhodes said. "It's all starting to come out of him."
Part of what will help Hunter develop into a valued piece of FSU's secondary is the play-to-play amnesia a defensive back has to possess, Rhodes said.
"You might start off a game or get in the middle of the game by doing something bad, but it's about how you finish," Rhodes said. "As long as you finish strong, you're going to be fine. And he's finished strong."
Moments after the visiting Seminoles took a 28-22 lead over Virginia Tech on Rashad Greene's 39-yard touchdown catch with 40 seconds remaining, Hunter iced the victory by snaring his second interception of the night.
"I pretty much knew what the receiver was going to do because the quarterback (Logan Thomas) did a half rollout and the receiver tried to sit down," Hunter said. "I just sort of played off him and baited Thomas into throwing it."
Hunter also had two tackles. But he also was beat deep on a few passing plays as Hokies receiver Corey Fuller had seven catches for 124 yards. He became the first player to go surpass the 100-yard receiving mark against FSU this season.
Hunter's difficulties extended to special teams, where he fielded just one punt out of six tries. One game after scoring on a 75-yard return, he didn't have a single yard against Virginia Tech. His lone return resulted in a fumble recovered by the Hokies.
As a result, the No. 10 Seminoles (9-1, 6-1 ACC) are tinkering in practices this week with swapping Hunter out for other punt returners. FSU wants to be sure no balls will hit the ground Saturday at Maryland (4-6, 2-4).
"I've been trying to do too much and that's been making me drop it," Hunter said. "I'm just trying to score as soon as I touch it. But the big thing really is catching it first."
Safety Lamarcus Joyner believes Hunter can finish strong.
"Some people have good games, some people have bad games. That's the game of football," Joyner said. "But he has come up when he was needed. ... That's what you look for out of a guy."