Demetrius Hunter’s reputation proceeded him as he walked into Ten West Diner in Orange.
“Oh, that’s the pancake man,” a regular customer whispered while Hunter took his seat inside the restaurant.
Hunter has no problem putting down his fair share of short stacks, but that’s not the origin of his “Pancake” nickname. He earned that on the football field at West Orange-Stark, where he’s made a habit of flattening defenders at the line of scrimmage.
The nation’s top-ranked center prospect who’s committed to the University of Oklahoma, Hunter doesn’t care about the hype or the accolades that other positions might get. He’s embracing the “nastiness” that comes with playing offensive line.
Whether he’s pancaking defenders on the field or sitting down for a big breakfast, Hunter embodies everything about his nickname.
“When you pancake someone and put them on the ground, there’s no better feeling than that,” Hunter said. “It’s just as good as scoring a touchdown, and I’ll let them know about it, too.
“As an offensive lineman, you don’t necessarily get all the shine, but we do the dirty work that helps our team win.”
Hunter wasn’t always the blue-chip prospect he is now. As a freshman, he was talented enough to play on the Mustangs’ line, but he struggled as most young players would in that scenario.
He switched to center as a sophomore, but those struggles persisted. Hunter recalls games in which he hardly could get a grip on the ball, rolling snaps to the quarterback as fans voiced their displeasure from the stands.
“I sweat so much that the coaches had to put like six sweatbands on my arm,” Hunter said. “It worked, and every game after that, coaches always had armbands waiting for me before the game.”
It was after that sophomore season that the “Pancake” nickname was born. Hunter’s trainer began calling him by the name, and it stuck. Hunter’s play on the field helped solidify the name, too.
He was becoming bigger, faster and stronger, and college coaches started to take notice. Last summer, Arizona State was the first school to offer Hunter a scholarship. He now has 15 total offers, including his verbal pledge to Oklahoma.
“After the first one, it just took off from there,” Hunter said. “Oklahoma was the second school to offer me and they’ve treated me well ever since, so there was no reason to go anywhere else.”
Hunter’s father, Demetrius Hunter Sr., also played offensive line at West Orange-Stark and coached his son in little league football. However, the elder Hunter says he was “nowhere near as good” as his son.
When colleges started calling, Hunter Sr. knew his son had something special.
“I knew he was good, but I didn’t know just how good at the time,” Hunter Sr. said of his son. “When Oklahoma called, that’s when it sunk in.”
With his senior season now rapidly approaching, Hunter is training to fit in with the “modern” offensive lineman. To play at the highest level, Hunter said, you must be smart enough to pick up blitzes, fast enough to stick with defenders and big enough to put them on their back.
“Obviously you have to be explosive and strong, but linemen are transitioning now to where they’re moving like receivers or defensive backs,” Hunter said. “That means I have to put in a lot of footwork to make sure I can match that speed.”
In between training this summer, Hunter was finally able to take a visit to Oklahoma. When he first was offered by the school, the NCAA had shut down such visits amid the coronavirus pandemic.
He finally arrived in Norman, Okla. in mid-June for a recruiting trip that only confirmed his commitment. He met players like San Francisco 49ers offensive lineman Trent Williams and future Hall of Fame running back Adrian Peterson.
“Those are guys who paid the price for OU and became first-round draft picks, so it was really cool for me to see,” Hunter said.
For now, Hunter’s sole focus is getting West Orange-Stark back to the state championship game, something the Mustangs haven’t done since they lost to Pleasant Grove in the 2017 title contest.
He knows what football means to the West Orange community, and hopes he can put his name alongside some of the school’s great players.
“I’m a different player than I was when I started high school, and I’m ready to show it,” Hunter said. “As I kid, I always looked up to the people who wore this jersey and the silver helmet. I think we have a great team that is capable of doing great things.”
Written by Matt Faye