Ask Danielle Hunter’s teammates what they call him and you’ll get a variety of answers.
The junior defensive end, who has become known for his ripped physique and fast play along the defensive line, has received several different nicknames from his teammates.
“Chief [defensive coordinator John Chavis] calls him Tarzan,” laughed senior running back Terrence Magee. “That’s probably my favorite one, but there are a bunch out there. I call him ‘The Terminator.’”
Magee said the team gets a laugh out of picturing the veiny, muscular Hunter swinging from trees in the jungle, using his long arms as leverage to get around.
And it’s those long arms that have Hunter poised for what many people think could be a breakout season for the 6-foot-6-inch, 240-pound behemoth from Katy, Texas.
Hunter forced himself into the starting lineup in the 2013-14 season in week four against Auburn and has held the role ever since after posting eight tackles and a quarterback hurry.
Even after the breakout season in which Hunter was named the Southeastern Conference Defensive Lineman of the Week after his performance against Florida, he dedicated himself to getting better in the offseason.
So the then-sophomore lineman spent his days in the weight room and followed a strict diet to reduce his body fat. The results were noticeable.
“I’m at about 3 percent [body fat] right now,” Hunter said. “I’m trying to go even lower.”
With the added expectations Hunter has more pressure on him than he did last season, when he emerged from a convoluted defensive end rotation to seize the starting spot by the throat.
But Hunter said he doesn’t read into anything going on in the media or look at preseason watchlists, choosing to focus on the field and let his play do the talking.
“I don’t pay attention to any of that stuff, man,” Hunter said. “My job is just to go out there and do what I can for the team.”
His teammates have noticed some change in Hunter though. With the added confidence of a secure starting role and a successful season, his teammates have noticed Hunter take a vocal leadership role on the defensive line in practice.
Senior linebacker D.J. Welter said Hunter has become a fiery leader for a defense with several returning starters.
Welter said seeing Hunter grow into his role after receiving steady playing time reminded him of his junior season, when the veteran linebacker finally became a constant in the linebacking corps.
“It’s really cool to see a guy grow and develop like Danielle has,” Welter said. “I can relate a lot after last season, and it’s what I assume the feeling coaches get when they see guys grow through the years.”
Hunter, who is normally quiet and reserved with the media, transforms into a commander in practice, motivating players by example and by force.
“He gets in peoples’ faces and he’ll yell at you,” said freshman defensive tackle Greg Gilmore. “He’s already a scary enough guy just looking at him, but when he tells you to do something you do it.”
Gilmore said the young LSU defensive line has noticed the change in Hunter’s demeanor and his teaching helps everyone along the defensive front improve.
Freshman defensive tackle Frank Herron, who converted from his high school position of defensive end, said Hunter knows the correct assignments and techniques of every position along the defensive front. Herron said Hunter helped make his positional transition as smooth as possible.
“He’s just a great leader. He stays on you. He’s always talking to you,” Herron said. “I’m always trying to match my motor with this guy, his intensity. It just never stops.”
“On the field he’s like, ‘You better do this, boy, you better keep your pad level right, he keeps all of the youngins right in his pants pocket, always by him,’” Herron said.
With a new role and added expectations, Hunter will have to work hard to earn the many names his teammates have taken to calling him.
“I’ve heard ‘The Terminator,’ ‘Tarzan’ and ‘Robocop,’” Welter laughed. “But I’m sure there’s plenty more. Everyone has fun with it, Danielle just takes it in stride.”
You can reach Trey Labat on Twitter @treylabat_TDR.