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Hunter Smith: Former Notre Dame student-athlete kicks way to the country music stage

The former Notre Dame punter and high jumper has thrived in everything from sports to singing and songwriting


Hunter Smith,
singer/songwriter with the Hunter Smith Band; retired NFL player

Hometown: Sherman, Texas

Current city: Zionsville, Indiana

School: Bachelor’s degree in theology and sociology, University of Notre Dame, 1999

Sports: Football (punter), men’s outdoor track and field (high jumper)

Fun fact: Smith co-authored a book that helps athletes, parents and coaches gain a proper perspective on sports called “The Jersey Effect: Beyond the World Championship Ring.”

He played two sports at the University of Notre Dame, punting for the football team and high-jumping in track and field. He juggled two majors, theology and sociology. When time allowed, he also played guitar and sang at ecumenical faith gatherings on the South Bend, Indiana, campus.

That frenzied pace of life could have left Hunter Smith bleary-eyed and exhausted. It didn’t. Instead, combined with valuable lessons about time management he learned as a student-athlete, it propelled Smith to prosperity as a professional athlete and musician and to success as a husband and father.

“I learned a lot within the classroom walls and got a great education,” the 38-year-old recalled. “But the lesson for me was how to balance life. Learning how to do several things, do them well, and persevere is the real education in the collegiate athletic experience.”

Smith arrived at Notre Dame as a two-time all-state athlete from Sherman High School in Texas. He averaged 41.2 yards per punt at Notre Dame, which ranks second in school history and was good enough to attract attention from NFL scouts. The Indianapolis Colts selected him in the 1999 draft’s seventh round, and he went on to record a 12-year professional career, including punting for the Colts during their Super Bowl-winning season in 2006.

After football ended for Smith, a second career in music beckoned. He is now a country rock singer and songwriter with the Hunter Smith Band, which will spend much of this year on tour, mostly around Indiana. In August, Smith’s band is scheduled to open for high-powered country singer Blake Shelton at a concert in Iowa.

Hunter Smith rides in 'Fighting Irish' style. Photo credit: Hunter Smith

The seeds of Smith’s love of music were planted many years ago during what he describes as an idyllic childhood. Smith and his two older siblings, a brother and sister, grew up on the family farm. Their dad worked two jobs – as an engineer at Texas Instruments and a cattle rancher on the family’s farm. Their mother was a speech therapist and then a stay-at-home mom.

Sports, nature and going to church three days a week were at the core of Smith’s family.

“We attended a noninstrumental church, and if we wanted to have music, everyone had to sing,” Smith said. “I was exposed early and often to a five-part a cappella harmony before I ever thought of being a musician.”

The music – including a harder version of it – quickly imbedded itself in Smith. “My brother taught me how to play the guitar by introducing me to ’80s rock bands like Poison, Tesla and Bon Jovi. I was just a little kid then and picked it up quickly,” he said. It wasn’t long before Smith was writing songs.

Growing up, Smith considered becoming a police officer. Then he considered being a youth minister or a motivational speaker. But at Notre Dame, as he grew as a person and a performer, music gained traction in his life.

Smith teamed up with a musician who knew him only as an artist, not as an athlete. “In the offseason, I would go to my summer job, play golf, work out, and in the evenings we’d play music and write songs,” he said.

During Hunter’s collegiate and NFL days, the duo performed for several years as the Christian rock band called Connersvine. They signed with a record label and released an album while Smith kept his day job as an NFL punter.

After his football retirement in 2010, Smith worked for a season in Nashville, Tennessee, continuing as a songwriter. Creative growth was his goal. Soon thereafter, the Hunter Smith Band was formed, and the group has since recorded two albums: “Green” and “Story.”

However, perspective remains a central theme for Smith. He draws upon the lessons he learned as a college student-athlete, keeping his life in balance as he and his wife, Jennifer, raise their four children.

“I’m an artist, and I did not start college as a great manager of time. I had to figure out a way to do it all,” he said. “I had to knuckle down and discipline myself, which I did.”

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