By Loyd McIntosh
If country music bestowed a Rookie of the Year award, it’s likely Sam Hunt would be at the top of the list.
Of course, sports terminology makes perfect sense when discussing the 30-year-old country singer and former University of Alabama at Birmingham football player. A native of Cedartown, Ga., Hunt transferred from Middle Tennessee State University to UAB in 2006, where he played quarterback for the Blazers for two seasons before graduating in 2007.
Though he’s currently riding high as Nashville’s newest male superstar, Hunt’s short time in Birmingham certainly made an impression.
His first album Montevallo was an immediate smash, debuting at No. 3 on the Billboard 200 and at No. 1 on the Billboard Top Country Albums charts.
The story of the album’s locally inspired title, perhaps unsurprisingly, involves a woman.
“I met a girl from Montevallo and over the next few years, as I was trying to break into the music world as a songwriter, I spent a lot of time traveling back and forth,” Hunt says. “The experiences I had through those years inspired a lot of the songwriting.”
In spite of a schedule packed with class, studying and football practice, Hunt used what downtime he had at UAB learning to play guitar while writing original songs.
Most of Hunt’s early songwriting efforts “started out very raw,” he says, scratching out formless lyrics for minutes at a time just to get something on the page.
“I wrote a song several years ago while I was in college called ‘Muscadine Wine,’” Hunt says. “I really didn’t know if it had potential or not, if it was good or bad or what. I played it for my roommates–who I played ball with–one night, and I knew they would tell me the truth.
“They loved it, and that encouraged me.”
After graduation, Hunt realized a professional football career probably wasn’t in the cards, he began to pursue the calling that had been nagging at him during his time in Birmingham.
“I thought that I could have a career in music,” he says. “I really didn’t know exactly what I wanted to do or how I would go about doing it.”
Hunt eventually moved to Nashville, breaking into the music business as a songwriter. By 2012, the former UAB quarterback had penned a handful of hits for country royalty, including Kenny Chesney (“Come Over”) and Keith Urban’s “Cop Car.”
These days, Hunt rarely picks up a football; though he does get his competitive every now and then with a game of ping pong or basketball among his band and crew.
However, he says his time enduring the rigors of college football has helped him not only survive, but thrive, in the cutthroat world of popular music.
“I don’t think I’m conscious of most of the things I’ve drawn from football, because they’re so ingrained in me now … understanding that the discipline and the routine and the regimentation to be successful,” Hunt says. “I was able to really see that connection as a football player where success requires a lot of hard work and effort, physically and mentally.”