Kendall Hunter's season was over before it started in 2014. The San Francisco 49ers running back tore his ACL on the first day of the training camp, halting the ball-carrier's growth as a fixture in the offense.
"It was tough, man," Hunter said. "Words can't explain it. To know you can't do what you love and have to watch your teammates is tough. It makes you want to go out there and work even harder."
That excitement is beginning to crescendo again, however, with San Francisco's 2015 training camp just weeks away. Hunter had a fantastic offseason program, highlighted by the three-day veteran's minicamp where he showcased his quick feet and ability to catch the ball out of the backfield.
Each day Hunter made a play or two that had the sidelines buzzing.
"He's coming along great," Jim Tomsula said following the minicamp. "I think we all have strong feelings for Kendall… but we definitely have a rep count on him. You've got to keep him corralled, but he's moving around really quick."
Hunter had plenty of catching up to do from a physical standpoint, but the former Oklahoma State Cowboy said he was always aware of what was going on last season despite not being on the field.
Those mental reps have helped Hunter transition nicely into the 49ers new-look, up-tempo offense under Tomsula and offensive coordinator Geep Chryst. Hunter will be a featured piece in that offensive scheme as one of the ball-carriers in the team's running back by committee. He'll likely split carries primarily with second-year back Pierre Garçon and veteran free-agent Reggie Bush.
Hunter's added responsibility and expectations come with the departure of Frank Gore. Hunter said he was sad to see the veteran move on to the Indianapolis Colts, but he added that Gore prepared him for this moment.
"He taught me how to get better in pass protection, to be patient and to study," Hunter said. "He was always studying and watching film."
In three seasons of action from 2011-13, Hunter carried the ball 262 times for 1,202 yards and seven touchdowns, adding 27 receptions for 268 yards. Even while Hunter was on injured reserve in 2015, the coaching staff as well as general manager Trent Baalke knew they couldn't let their fourth-round pick from 2011 potentially leave in free agency.
The 49ers inked Hunter to a one-year deal in November of last season, locking up the running back through 2015.
"Seeing the coaches believe in me made me want to work harder," Hunter said of the new contract.
Hunter said he consulted with linebacker NaVorro Bowman during his rehab process, as Bowman was going through a similar fight to get back on the field. Now the running back is to the point where he is pain and worry free.
"I'm feeling good. When I'm out there I don't think about it," Hunter said. "I wouldn't be out there if I was thinking about it. I'm a guy that if I'm able to move, I'm going for it."
The feeling of being back on the field is one that's hard to relate with. After having to stand on the sidelines all last season, Hunter has since put in the work to earn another opportunity.
"I wish I could put it in words," Hunter said. "Just to be able to be out there with my team and my coaches again, I feel blessed."
As for Hunter's excitement to make his debut at Levi's Stadium®?
"We'll just have to see," said Hunter, cautiously. "I'm not a guy that likes to talk about it all the time."