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Travis Hunter, Colorado’s two-way sensation, will miss the Buffaloes’ highly anticipated game against USC on Saturday.
Hunter suffered a lacerated liver Sept. 16 against Colorado State when he was the subject of a late and unnecessarily violent hit by Rams defensive back Henry Blackburn. He missed last week’s big game against Oregon (his teammates struggled without him) and is expected to be out next week against Arizona State as well.
Hunter could be bitter. He could be angry. He could sit quietly as fans harass Blackburn online, or he could even jump into the fray himself.
After all, the game he loves and the chance to compete at the highest level were unfairly taken from him for a few weeks. Not to mention, a “lacerated liver” doesn’t sound like a pleasant thing to deal with.
Hunter is, unequivocally, a victim here, and in 2023, society is overrun with people actively playing that card, whether it’s merited or not.
Instead, Travis Hunter made comments excusing Blackburn, and this week he invited Blackburn on his YouTube channel. It wasn’t just an effort to prove that all was forgiven. In taking the time to get to know each other, they actually formed a friendship from an unlikely place.
In a day and age when many actively search for a slight, Hunter instead went looking for a solution. Where many retreat to their corners, he went looking for a connection.
“For the people that love to see the negativity, this ain’t a negative video, man,” Hunter said. “It’s straight positive. There’s nothing but positivity this way.”
How rare is that?
Coaches scream at each other on national television over minor comments. Senators troll each other on social media. Seemingly everyone tries to villainize the “other side” in an effort to secure sympathy or clout or power or ego.
Yet here is a 20-year-old in Boulder going the opposite direction, the right direction.
“It’s football,” Hunter said. “It’s a game. … Stop being negative. We don’t like negativity. … This is what the game does for you. It can bring you together. It’s football, at the end of the day. We are all brothers.”
The show consisted of Hunter and Blackburn sitting on a park bench talking about life and football and asking each other questions so they could get to know each other on a personal level. Later, they went bowling and raised money for Realities for Children, a Colorado charity that aids abused, neglected and at-risk youth.
The two connected after Blackburn knocked Hunter out of the game with a late shot to Hunter’s chest. Blackburn, a senior who grew up in Boulder, was flagged on the play and was later on the receiving end of online vitriol, including threats against him.
Both Hunter and his coach, Deion Sanders, immediately pleaded with fans to leave Blackburn alone, calling the hit part of an emotional sport. Soon, Hunter and Blackburn were communicating online and then via phone.
On Thursday, they were on Hunter’s YouTube channel, which is now allowable due to college players’ being granted rights over the name, image and likeness.
Hunter wanted to control the message. Hopefully that message spreads.
“This video is something good,” he said. “Us coming together is something good that came out of that injury and that football game.”
“I appreciate how you handled it,” Blackburn said. “A lot of people would [feel] hatred. You just handled it in a mature way.”
Hunter is a sophomore from outsider Atlanta and arguably the most interesting person in college football. He was the No. 1 recruit in the Class of 2022, but he turned down offers from every major program to sign with Sanders and Jackson State, an HBCU that played a lower level of football. Not since the sport fully integrated had such a recruit made such a decision.
Hunter’s connection with Sanders is deep. He cried on Sanders’ shoulders before his first college game and then starred at both wide receiver and cornerback. He has continued the two-way act since he followed Coach Prime to Colorado this year, logging an almost unheard-of 120-plus plays in each of Buffs’ first two games.
Around the team, Hunter is known as an intense competitor but a quiet soul. He calls himself “goofy” and said one reason he wasn’t mad at Blackburn was that it’s almost impossible to make him “angry.” While he certainly aspires to play in the NFL, he said he also dreams of being on the Pro Bass Fishing Tour.
If nothing else, he should serve as an example to all. A little grace. A little kindness. A little perspective can go a long way toward improving a world too often bent on crushing or canceling the opposition.
Sanders likes to signal out his top players as either “dawgs” or “leaders,” noting that not every dog is a leader and not every leader is a dog.
Travis Hunter is both, and his leadership extends far beyond the football field and hopefully into the thinking of everyone, everywhere.