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EXCLUSIVE: Michigan State TE Tyler Hunt talks goals for 2022, including another win over Michigan

The sixth-year senior has his sights set on a Big Ten championship, and much more...

Michigan State sixth-year tight end Tyler Hunt is ready to get back on the field following the Spartans’ 11-2 season in 2021.

Hunt, who missed the final two games of 2021 due to injury, was limited during spring practice in April, but he’s back to 100 percent ahead of the start of summer conditioning for Michigan State.

“I’m ready to go,” Hunt said. “I took care of the things that I needed to take care of. I’m excited to get back there and start working out again with the team, for sure.”

Hunt rejoins a tight end room that will look to replace starter Connor Heyward, who was drafted in the sixth round of the 2022 NFL Draft by the Pittsburgh Steelers. In addition to Hunt, Michigan State has several other guys who will fight for playing time at the position this year, including redshirt sophomore Maliq Carr, incoming transfer Daniel Barker (Illinois), and redshirt juniors Jackson Morse and Evan Morris.

“I think we’re going to be pretty explosive,” Hunt said of the tight end room. “We were pretty explosive last year as well. We’ve got a bunch of guys in that room that can really carry the weight. It’s going to be fun to see who steps forward where, and how all of us kind of work together come this season.”

Last season, Hunt had 14 catches for 136 yards and a touchdown for the Spartans. This year, he’ll look to become even more of a go-to target for quarterback Payton Thorne, who he’s developed a good, yet competitive, relationship with.

“Payton had a great year last year. I’m pretty good friends with the guy. We go out, we golf quite a bit – I beat him most of the time,” Hunt said with a wide grin. “We’re friends, we joke a lot in the locker room, we hang out. Pretty cool dude, he’s easy to get along with.”

Thorne set a Michigan State record with 27 passing touchdowns last season, but the Spartans’ offense will look a little different in 2022 without guys like Kenneth Walker III, Jalen Nailor and Heyward.

“I’m excited for his year coming up,” Hunt said of Thorne. “He’s got a lot of weapons back. I know we lost Speedy (Nailor) and Kenneth Walker and Connor Heyward, but we’ve got some guys in to replace those weapons as well.”

To the casual Spartan fan, Hunt may seem an unlikely candidate to be one of Thorne's go-to weapons next season, but the sixth-year senior has beaten the odds before. Hunt has had one of the most unique paths to becoming a Big Ten football player that anyone will ever take.

A native of Gobles, Mich. – a town with a population of about 850 people – Hunt walked on to the Spartans’ program in 2017 as a specialist. He competed in tryouts that offseason, and earned a spot on the roster as a kicker/punter.

Hunt redshirted his first year before starting five games at punter for Michigan State in 2018. His season was cut short however, after he suffered a torn ACL in practice.

The following season, Hunt served as the Spartans’ holder on field goals and PATs, and got some run on the kick return team. He had a 16-yard return during Michigan State’s 27-21 win over Wake Forest in the 2019 Pinstripe Bowl.

Things then began to change for Hunt during that next offseason. Then-head coach Mark Dantonio retired, and Michigan State hired Mel Tucker. At the same time that was happening, Hunt was ready to switch positions from specialist to tight end.

Perhaps it was THIS play that signaled to the new regime that Hunt could indeed play tight end:

In the COVID-shortened 2020 season, Hunt had eight catches for 78 yards, which ranked second among Michigan State’s tight ends that season. He also scored his first career touchdown, scoring on an end-round from 1-yard out at Iowa.

After a 2-5 record in 2020, Michigan State was expected to struggle against last season. Preseason oddsmakers set the Spartans’ expected win total at just 4.5 games. Michigan State proceeded to shatter those expectations.

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“Last season is one of the special ones,” Hunt said. “I think we were expected to be one of the worst teams in college football last year, and ended up being one of the best teams in college football.”

The Spartans opened the season 6-0, but found themselves in a dogfight on the road at Indiana. Leading 10-9 with the third quarter winding down, Hunt and Thorne made a couple plays that would help the Spartans seal a victory.

It started when Hunt – who was a high school quarterback – completed a pass to Thorne on a reverse-pass trick play:

A few plays later, the quarterback returned the favor, finding the tight end in the end zone:

Michigan State went on to win that game, 20-15, setting up a battle of unbeatens with rival Michigan the following week at Spartan Stadium.

With ESPN’s College GameDay and Fox Sports’ Big Noon Kickoff in East Lansing, Michigan State came back from 16 points down to beat the Wolverines, 37-33, to improve to 8-0 and earn the No. 3 spot in the College Football Playoff rankings.

“It’s crazy, because when you’re playing in the game you don’t really feel like 16 points is that big of a comeback to win. But, we go down 16…and then all of a sudden we make plays and we start scoring again,” Hunt said. “All of a sudden, you can feel it when you’re in the stadium – there’s just energy that’s floating around, and as you keep coming back it just gets louder and louder. It was just amazing to be a part of that.”

Hunt was on the field for 48 snaps against Michigan, and although it was a quiet receiving day for the tight end – he had one catch for three yards – Hunt helped open holes for Walker III, who had an all-time performance for MSU.

“Kenneth had a heck of a game,” Hunt said. “Five touchdowns rushing – I think that might be the most ever against Michigan, so that was pretty awesome to see. To be able to help out in that too is pretty amazing. I’ll carry that for the rest of my life.”

Michigan State went on to win the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl to cap an 11-2 season, but hopes for a Big Ten championship were dashed with losses at Purdue and Ohio State during the regular season. The Spartans have not been shy this offseason about vocalizing their desire to win conference and national championships in 2022.

“We definitely are building off that,” Hunt said. “We have a lot of momentum going into the offseason and I think everybody’s mindset is to not just win the Peach Bowl or make it to a playoff game anymore. It’s make it to a Big Ten championship, win a Big Ten championship, make it to a College Football Playoff, win and go further into the postseason.”

Hunt has high personal goals for himself as well next season.

“I really want a touchdown in Spartan Stadium,” he said. “I have two touchdowns, but they’re on the road. So, I’d like a touchdown in Spartan Stadium. And then, [other] personal goals, I’d like to make the boards, make the watch lists for tight end of the year, or make an All-Big Ten team, or something like that. Team goals – I really want that Big Ten Championship and I want a spot in the CFP, for sure.”

And, of course, Hunt would like to finish his career with another win over Michigan.

“We’ll get it done,” Hunt said, with that wide grin of his returning.

Our full interview with Tyler Hunt can be viewed below:

Twitter: @mlounsberry_SI