PEMBROKE — In today’s digitally-dependent, reality show-obsessed, “look at me” culture, it’s rare for star athletes to authentically display selflessness.
The University of North Carolina at Pembroke football team has one of the best returning defensive players in the country in senior defensive end Tyler Hinton, but those aren’t his words. His words portray a different narrative, that is summarized by his Twitter account that features an inspirational bible verse on the importance of hard work.
“If any would not work, neither should he eat,” it reads.
Hinton had a career year as a junior. He tallied nine sacks, 15 1/2 tackles for loss and was named an honorable mention for the 2017 Don Hansen All-America Team. The sack total was the second-highest in school history, and he owns the career sack record at UNCP with 20 1/2.
Newly promoted defensive line coach and former Braves standout, DeVante Bush, has been with the program long enough to watch Hinton grow from an unpolished freshman to a veteran defender who broke his career sack record. Bush is in awe when watching Hinton nowadays.
“He’s a very agile guy,” Bush said. “A lot of the pass rush moves he uses, man, I wish I could use those when I played.”
Though pass rushing is his forte, Bush says Hinton is an all-around player that can do other things like play the run. Those skill sets don’t come as a coincidence. The four-year starter says he watches film of similar players like Denver Broncos all-pro defensive end Von Miller, as well as old footage of his new defensive line coach.
Even with all the accolades and high praise, the talented defensive end isn’t concerned with “stats and stuff,” and would rather credit others for his success.
“Honestly, man, it’s my teammates,” Hinton said as he casually described his historic season. “They make it easier on me. I know I can trust them to do their job and it makes my job easier.”
Hinton led a defense that was one of the few bright spots for a 2-8 team. As a unit, they racked up 771 total tackles. The defensive line was one of the best groups in the conference in bothering opposing quarterbacks, collecting 27 sacks and 48 QB hurries.
When it comes to his teammates, the senior defensive lineman couldn’t be more loquacious. He thinks this year’s defense has uncapped potential.
“We got a lot of play-makers. I think that’s the biggest thing I’m excited about,” Hinton said. “We got a few [defensive] lineman that are going to have great years…and I’m definitely excited to watch them play.”
In addition to watching his pass rushing skills blossom, Bush is just as impressed with his protege’s growth as a leader.
“He’s a very vocal individual, a really good football player and…he’s a really good human being. I think the guys really like him. They see him as a brother and I think that’s a good quality to have when playing football,” Bush said.
Hinton was appropriately named one of the team’s four captains for this season, based on a team vote. Bush says he stressed to Hinton how important it is to lift up his fellow defensive mates, especially if he wants to exceed his production from last year.
So far, Hinton has heeded the advice. He’s set lofty goals for the group and proudly stated that their biggest one is to not just be the best defense in Division II, but the entire nation.
“I think the sky is the limit for this group…they just got to believe,” Bush said. “That is a good aspect for [Hinton] to think about as far as being the best defense in the nation because you’re not putting a cap on anything.”
Donnell Coley can be reached at 910-416-5165 or by email at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @Sportsinmyveins.