Heritage senior Chris Hunter has always loved football, but he still had to be talked into playing a year ago. Having bounced from Stone Bridge to Broad Run and then to Heritage in his first three years of high school, he said he hadn't had time to form a connection with any of the teams.

"I played football all growing up in little league," Hunter said. "But since I didn't really know anyone at any of the schools, I didn't really care to play."

Luckily for him -- and for the Pride -- a little prodding from some friends and a nudge from Coach Wes Driskill got him on the field. Once he was there, it didn't take him long to turn heads. By the end of his junior season, his first playing organized football in more than four years, Hunter was a standout on both sides of the ball.

He led the Pride with 11 catches for 187 yards and a touchdown, an average of 17 yards per reception. He was also the team's leading tackler from a strong safety position that also allowed him to move up and play the role of linebacker when defending against the run.

Hunter's duties on defense will remain unchanged this season, but he might also be used coming out of the backfield instead of always lining up in the slot.

"You could tell right away that Chris definitely had some natural skills," Driskill said. "But he hadn't played much football until last year. So it was one of those things where you could see him get better and better, and by the end of the year he had really come on."

Said Hunter: "It just started coming back to me. Inside I always knew that football was my life."

Now, as he enters his senior season, he hopes it could be his future, too.

Reinvigorated, Hunter dedicated himself to training this offseason. He worked tirelessly in the weight room, adding more than 20 pounds of muscle to bulk up his 6-foot-2 frame to an even 200 pounds. He also ran drill after drill to improve his speed and footwork, his open-field tackling and his ability to catch the football.

Hunter then attended camps at Redskins Park and the University of North Carolina to showcase himself for college recruiters. He was timed at 4.31 and 4.35 seconds in the 40-yard dash at a combine held in Ashburn.

"That really fired up his ambition a little bit," Driskill said. "And now he's really itching to have a good senior season because he thinks he can get some looks from major colleges if he does.

"He's very deserving of success," Driskill said, "because he's worked very hard for it. Chris has really gotten serious about lifting weights and molding himself into a better athlete."

Chris Hunter is coming off his first organized football season in three years. This year may not be his last one playing, either, considering he has tremendous speed and a good work ethic.