As one of six seniors or graduate students on the Charlotte 49ers inaugural football team a year ago, Mikel Hunter’s voice often was heard over many of his teammates.
A college football veteran, unlike many other 49ers, Hunter’s words of wisdom resonated in the locker room and on the field.
This season, Hunter will share advice with Charlotte’s players in a more formal capacity.
On July 29, the 49ers announced that Hunter was selected as one of the team’s four graduate assistant coaches.
Last year, Hunter was the 49ers’ top return man and one of the team’s leading receivers. This year, he will help the coaching staff give direction to some of his former teammates and to newcomers who will know him only as a coach.
“The guys already know his work ethic, which is a plus,” said Charlotte head coach Brad Lambert. “It’s something he brought as a player and it’s something he’ll bring as a coach.”
A native of Rockdale, Ga., Hunter came to Charlotte via the Air Force Academy, where he played football for three seasons. He started 14 games as a sophomore and junior and has the fourth-longest touchdown run in program history.
Hunter left Air Force after his junior year but says his former Falcons coaches produced a highlight tape on his behalf, which was instrumental in him drawing attention from other colleges, including Charlotte.
On Dec. 20, 2012, the 49ers announced that Hunter was one of them.
“I knew I wanted to finish school,” said Hunter. “I spent way too many hours in the classroom for me not to finish with a degree.
“I definitely wanted to play football, which made coming here the real deal.”
Hunter started all 11 games for Charlotte in 2013 and was selected as a captain for the team’s inaugural game. He finished the season with 45 receptions for 551 yards and two touchdowns.
Hunter holds 49er records for longest touchdown catch (53 yards, against Presbyterian) and longest kickoff return (96 yards for a touchdown against Chowan). He led the team with 1,138 all-purpose yards.
Hunter graduated from UNC Charlotte in December with a degree in history. He found jobs that helped him “pay the bills,” working for FedEx and Dave & Busters at one point, then settling into a 40-hour-a-week job at a NAPA Auto Parts distribution center.
Coaching was something Hunter was interested in but not pursuing. Still, he took advantage of an opportunity to be Charlotte’s video intern, a position he started July 1.
Later that month, when Stanley Arnoux stepped down as one of the 49ers’ graduate assistants, Hunter stepped in to fill the void.
“Coaching is something I’ve always been interested in,” said Hunter. “I’ve been playing college football for four, five years, and I have a good feel for what it’s like being a player and going to school.
“It’s interesting being on the other side of everything.”
Less than a year after his final game as a 49er, Hunter has been assigned to work alongside offensive coordinator Jeff Mullen and wide-receiver coach Joe Tereshinski. Some former teammates affectionately call Hunter “old man.” Others call him “Coach Kel.”
“It’s a unique feeling,” said Hunter. “I have the guys on the team receiving me as a coach. I still have a connection with them. It’s one of the things helping me make the transition. They see me as a coach. It’s going pretty good so far.”
Hunter is a graduate student in liberal studies. He figures he may continue as a graduate assistant past this season, but doesn’t know if he will pursue full-time coaching jobs when his tenure is complete.
“Since I graduated, I’ve learned a lot about myself and a lot of stuff that goes on around me,” said Hunter. “Right now, I’m going with the flow. I just know how to work hard and how to treat people the right way.”
Fall sports schedules
The football team opens the 2014 season Aug. 28 at Campbell.
The men’s soccer team will play exhibitions at UNC Asheville (Aug. 20) and Davidson (Aug. 23) before opening the regular season at home Aug. 31 against Radford. The women’s soccer team’s first regular-season match will be Aug. 22 at UNC Greensboro.
The volleyball team hosts its Green/White scrimmage at Halton Arena 7 p.m. Aug. 23. Regular-season play will begin with the 49er Invitational on Aug. 29-30.