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Years after moving from Vermont, Dutch Fork’s Jon Hunt gets validation in state title win

Four years ago, Jon Hunt was a middle-schooler living in Vermont. His family was looking to vacate The Green Mountain State — too many days spent staring at white streets as the heater churned. The Hunts sought warmth. Jon sought football.

They had vacationed in South Carolina before, and the winters were tame enough. Hunt’s mom gave it the OK and gave her son his choice of high school. The entire state of South Carolina was at his disposal. Once he tracked down a high school, they could track down a house.

If the search took a month, one could not have blamed Hunt. But, the internet is a wonderful thing and Hunt’s search for a school maybe took a minute. He looked through the high school football rankings in South Carolina. He was looking for one thing.

“Best school in South Carolina,” he said.

In 2020, Jon Hunt enrolled at Dutch Fork. Four years later, he authored his chapter of the Dutch Fork legacy novel, guiding the Silver Foxes to a 21-6 victory Friday over White Knoll to win the 5A state championship. The senior quarterback ran for two touchdowns in the game’s second half, giving the Foxes enough cushion to cruise to the finish line.

Dutch Fork Silver Foxes Jonathan Hunt (19) rushes for a long gain against the White Knoll Timberwolves during the 5A State Championship Game Friday, Dec. 1, 2023, at South Carolina State’s Oliver Dawson Stadium in Orangeburg, SC. Jeff Blake/Jeff Blake Photo
Dutch Fork Silver Foxes Jonathan Hunt (19) rushes for a long gain against the White Knoll Timberwolves during the 5A State Championship Game Friday, Dec. 1, 2023, at South Carolina State’s Oliver Dawson Stadium in Orangeburg, SC. Jeff Blake/Jeff Blake Photo

Years after he chose a high school 1,000 miles away from home because of its recent relevance, Hunt hugged 15th-year Dutch Fork coach Tom Knotts. The legendary coach put his arm around Hunt and the other three captains and posed with the Silver Foxes’ eighth state-championship trophy in the past 12 years.

Perhaps none of Knotts’ teams dealt with adversity better. The New England Patriots of South Carolina high school football started 2023 amid chatter of a dynasty on the downturn.

The Foxes lost their first three games and, on Oct. 6, they fell at White Knoll and dropped to 2-5 overall. Fifty-six days later, White Knoll was again on the opposing sideline — this time watching Dutch Fork do what Dutch Fork does: Win. The Foxes finished the season 10-5.

“This one is definitely sweeter,” Knotts said.

For as much talk about adversity as there was on Friday evening, no one understands it more than Hunt.

Think about it: You often hear of guys transferring from some random state to a powerhouse in a town they’ve never been to. But most of those guys are stars, so highly touted that they are handed the starting job, or at least given the assurance it will be theirs in a year. Hunt was given nothing.

“God has his ways,” Hunt said.

He didn’t take the reins of the varsity offense until he was a senior. This season was going to make it all worth it, going to make sure he graduated from high school absent of what-ifs.

Then, in the season-opener, Hunt broke his collarbone. He spent weeks rehabbing as sophomore Ethan Offing took over and found his groove leading the offense. Knotts did a two-quarterback system for a bit, but hated every second of it.

Dutch Fork Silver Foxes Jonathan Hunt (19) passes during the 5A State Championship Game Friday, Dec. 1, 2023, at South Carolina State’s Oliver Dawson Stadium in Orangeburg, SC. Jeff Blake/Jeff Blake Photo
Dutch Fork Silver Foxes Jonathan Hunt (19) passes during the 5A State Championship Game Friday, Dec. 1, 2023, at South Carolina State’s Oliver Dawson Stadium in Orangeburg, SC. Jeff Blake/Jeff Blake Photo

Hunt got fully healthy and returned to the starting role, ready to lead the Silver Foxes into the playoffs. He threw the ball 11 times in the first round of the playoffs against Boiling Springs … then suffered a hamstring injury and left the game.

“Well, you can see how he runs the football,” Knotts said. “He runs the football straight up and he’s gonna get hit and hurt, I keep telling him. But this year, to be successful, we had to have the quarterback run the ball.”

For the next three weeks, Offing started and had Dutch Fork trending toward another state title.

“He asked me what he had to do to get back,” Knotts said. “I said, be able to run the ball and make great decisions. Those are the two things. And Ethan’s got to screw up a bit more.”

Offing did not screw up. But he got injured in the 5A semifinal against J.L. Mann. Off the bench came Hunt, who threw three interceptions before regaining his composure and leading the Foxes to a miraculous last-second comeback.

There was no need for last-second heroics on Friday. There was also no chance for a proper celebration. As the Silver Foxes jumped around, swarming Knotts as the clock ticked down, Hunt was nowhere to be seen. He was off to the side, at the trainer’s table getting his injured right hand wrapped in green tape.

“My hand is all messed up,” he said postgame.

He went through the handshake line, held up the trophy and then trotted to the locker room — all set for an appointment with a needle and some stitches.

All night, the Dutch Fork players and coaches shouted what has become the motto of this 2023 team. “GSE! GSE! GSE!”

It stands for “Greatest Story Ever,” and is meant to describe this crazy season. But perhaps the “GSE” was sitting in the locker room early, his hand all stitched up and his school decision validated.