It didn’t take long for redshirt junior transfer Hamilton Hunt to know Ellensburg is where he wanted to set his stake for the next two years. After three seasons spent with Oregon State University as a linebacker with minimal playing time, he entered himself into the transfer portal looking for a new home.

And on his visit with the Central Washington University football team last winter, all it took was a few succinct words from senior defensive back Marcus Schimmelfennig. Words that no other schools Hunt visited conveyed to him.

“Schim (referring to Schimmelfennig’s nickname), the first thing he said to me was, ‘We’re winning a natty (National Championship), come here,’” Hunt explained. “That sparked me as far as I’m concerned, the main thing is winning.”

Two days later, the 6-foot, 230-pound Hunt signed with the Wildcats and adds depth, experience, and leadership at linebacker to a position senior Donte Hamilton believes is one of the most vital on the field.

“We expect a lot from ourselves. We’re the leaders of the team,” Hamilton said. “I think every time we step on that field, we’re the best position group — offense, defense, our team, the other team — we got the highest expectations for ourselves.”

Hunt, a Salem, Ore. native, walked on at OSU after graduating from West Salem High School in 2015. He had a decorated career in high school, named 6A second-team All-State as a senior and first-team All-Greater Valley Conference. He was also Salem Sports and Breakfast Club Player of the Year.

He redshirted as a freshman at OSU, then as a sophomore saw action in four games, specifically with special teams. He notched just one tackle that season, which would be his only of his career as he didn’t appear in any games for the next two seasons.

So, with meticulous thought, prayer, and conversations with his family, he decided to transfer out of OSU. And even with interest from other schools at the Division I level, CWU was the ideal fit with its winning mentality and professionalism he saw from the program.

“I was so excited to commit,” Hunt said. “Never looked back, man. Never looked back, loving it here. There’s a lot of big things coming from this program.”

Hunt wore No. 44 in high school and thought it was unique when he heard about the history and meaning of the number at CWU. It’s a jersey number that is bequeathed from a defensive graduating senior to a returning player, a tradition that started back in 2008. No. 44 exemplifies dedication, toughness, discipline, and tenacity.

“Learning about the tradition of No. 44 and what it means, it was really cool to me,” Hunt said.

Hunt was exactly the kind of player CWU was looking for in terms of leadership and someone who could amalgamate into its culture, which is sometimes difficult for transfers.

But not for Hunt. He has immediately stepped in and displayed the type of guidance this defense needs, according to second-year defensive coordinator Ivan Cordova.

“He’s got an intensity to him that I think the other guys feed off of,” Cordova said. “Especially up front, especially in the run game that we needed. It’s contagious, right? It’s positive, but it’s a standard. He’s demanding. He wants to be great, and he wants the group to be great. I think guys, I know they kind of gravitate to that.”

Out of high school, Hunt was offered a full-ride by Southern Oregon University which is where head coach Chris Fisk spent five seasons before arriving at CWU in 2016. Fisk brought three former players from SOU on to his coaching staff at CWU (A.J. Cooper, Jack Singler, and Grant Torgerson), so there was a slight relationship built with Hunt, even if it was smattering.

Hamilton was exuberant when he heard Hunt was transferring in.

“I’m just stoked anytime we have new guys coming in. You’re always excited to see what they can do and especially when they pan out like Hamilton (Hunt) has,” Hamilton said. “Like I said, we needed someone who would bring that energy every day.”

CWU runs a 3-4 defense, and expect to see both Hunt – and Hamilton – in the inside roles. CWU returns Tevin Gray, who’s listed as a linebacker but plays more of a hybrid role, or otherwise known as “star”, which is essentially a nickel. Gray was third on the team in tackles (49) in 2018.

Hamilton transferred into CWU last season as a safety, but with a need at linebacker, the coaching staff saw his size and athleticism to fill that void. And the move paid dividends, as Hamilton earned GNAC first-team honors. He led the team in tackles (88) and recorded two interceptions, three sacks, and two fumble recoveries.

“I think he’s made huge strides even coming off last season,” Cordova said of Hamilton so far this fall camp.

The Wildcats added JUCO junior transfers Tevita Tuilimu and Fred Feleti to its linebacker corps this offseason.

CWU will be without senior linebacker Uli Ma’ae this season, for unidentified reasons. He was second on the team in tackles last season (77). Ellensburg native Gabe Caskey also won’t be vying in his senior season, as he decided to call it quits.

Luke Olson: lolson@kvnews.com; on Twitter: @lukeolsonb.

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