Margus Hunt From Estonia Is The Real Deal in the NFL

Among the more unlikely tales of success in the National Football League has to be the story of Cincinnati Bengals defensive end Margus Hunt from Estonia. The 6′ 8″ 280 lb Hunt has been blocking field goals and making life miserable for opposing NFL offenses for the past three years.

A second round draft pick of the Bengals (53rd overall in the 2013 Draft), Hunt is still learning the game and with physical gifts that surpass even those of some of the finest athletes in the NFL, his career will continue to climb.

This freak of nature who runs a 4.6 40 yard dash with a 36″ vertical jump and whose NFL combine numbers were off the charts, had never heard of football let alone played it until he was 22 years old.

Estonia? American football? Where’s the connection?

This tiny European nation on the Baltic Sea produces track and field athletes. The most popular sports are soccer and basketball. American football is almost unheard of in Estonia. Although there is a league now – the Baltic Sea League – among the Baltic states of Estonia, Lithuania and Latvia, it did not exist when Margus Hunt,  a world-class shot putter and hammer and discus thrower (he held a number of junior world records), was headed to Southern Methodist University in 2007 on his own dime to train with SMU’s renowned track and field coach Dave Wollman.

AFI - Margus Hunt - SMU

Even though he was able to work with Wollman, just as he arrived the school dropped the men’s track and field program. He continued to work out but with funds dwindling it seemed that he had no other choice but to return home to Estonia.

Enter the football team whose strength and offensive line coach Dennis McKnight had been astounded by Hunt’s prowess in the gym. Head coach June Jones had just moved from a successful nine years at the University of Hawaii and did not hesitate. With Hunt’s visa and cash running out, Jones signed him to a full scholarship to play football, a sport he had never even tried.

Jeff Reinebold (Special teams coordinator for the CFL Hamilton Tiger Cats) was SMU’s receivers coach at the time:

“Margus was phenomenal. He was literally a freak of nature. You see someone like him only once in a lifetime. We figured we could redshirt him and teach him the game by the time he would hit the field.”

Hunt did more than just learn the game. From having trouble even getting down into a stance in the beginning, he excelled at an astounding pace. In his first 14 games at SMU, he blocked eight kicks, putting him in the top 10 in blocked kicks among all NCAA players. He was named the MVP of the 2012 Hawaii Bowl.

He finished his college career with 16.5 sacks and 17 blocked place kicks, including an NCAA record 10 blocked field goals.

“Margus was a cross-sport athlete and normally they don’t like the physicality of football. But he thrived on it,” said Reinebold.

CINCINNATI, OH - DECEMBER 29:  Margus Hunt #99 of the Cincinnati Bengals rushes the quarterback during the game against the Baltimore Ravens at Paul Brown Stadium on December 29, 2013 in Cincinnati, Ohio.  (Photo by John Grieshop/Getty Images)

Margus Hunt #99 of the Cincinnati Bengals rushes the quarterback during the game against the Baltimore Ravens at Paul Brown Stadium on December 29, 2013 in Cincinnati, Ohio. (Photo by John Grieshop/Getty Images)

Wikipedia:

 “For nearly 10 years, Bruce Feldman, a writer for CBSSports.com, has annually compiled what he calls a ‘Freak List’ of the 10 college football players he considers the most freakish athletes. In 2012, Hunt was on top of his list. According to Feldman, Hunt ‘sounds like a Playstation football creation’ – despite his 82-inch (2.1 m) wingspan, he is able to bench press 225 pounds (102 kg) 35 times, and has also cleaned 384 pounds (174 kg) and snatched 345 pounds (156 kg). Hunt also boasts a 36-inch (91 cm) vertical jump.

Wollman predicted that Hunt would have 45 repetitions and a 4.6-second 40-yard dash at the 2013 NFL combineHunt did, in fact, run a 4.60-second 40-yard dash and did 38 bench press repetitions while posting a vertical leap of 34.5-inch (88 cm) at the 2013 combine.”

It was enough for Cincinnati to take a chance on him, selecting 53rd overall in the second round. Although he has suffered a couple of nagging injuries with the Bengals and has been sidelined at times, he is still battling a lack of experience. After all, he has essentially only played a total of 39 games of football in his life, roughly the number that a high school senior has played before moving on to college.

How far can he go? Well, the Bengals are in the playoffs and right now he is healthy and playing. Although he is not starting yet, he feels confident that he is not far off.

After all, how long do you keep a “freak of nature” off the field?

Roger Kelly

Roger Kelly is an editor and a writer for AFI. A former PR Director the B.C. Lions of the Canadian Football League for 7 years, he now lives in Sweden writing about and scouting American Football throughout the world.

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