ALLENDALE TOWNSHIP, Mich. (WOOD) — For Hunter Rison, it wasn’t that long ago when he didn’t know how he’d be able to fill his gas tank or how much he would get to eat in a day.
Playing football at a junior college in California by the name of Fullerton, Rison suddenly found himself in a spot he could’ve never quite imagined he’d be in.
“It’s a struggle, there’s no other way to put it,” Rison said. “There’s no scholarships or anything like that, it’s a really humbling experience.”
Now, reflecting as a transfer to Grand Valley State University in 2020, he couldn’t be more appreciative of the chance to play Division II football and the opportunity he has.
Five years ago, he was one of the top wideout recruits in the nation.
Urban Meyer at Ohio State University and Nick Saban at the University of Alabama were setting their sights on getting Rison to come to their football program. But so was Mark Dantonio at Michigan State University, where Rison had plenty of ties.
Andre Rison is a legend in “Spartan Country,” and is the father of Hunter Rison. So, the son of the five-time pro bowler elected to attend the alma mater of his dad and attended MSU in 2017.
It seemed like a great story in the making, but it would quickly change.
Hunter Rison played an important role as a freshman at MSU, catching 19 passes for 224 yards in 12 games. It helped the Spartans in a bounce back season, where they won 10 games following a three-win season in 2016.
It seemed like all things were going well and Hunter Rison was off to the start many imagined he was capable of having in the Big Ten. However, about two weeks after the Spartans defeated Washington State University in the Holiday Bowl, he announced that he would be transferring from East Lansing.
While Hunter Rison came out publicly to thank his coaches and teammates at MSU, his father also came out publicly and said his son wasn’t happy with the playing time he was getting and felt the system head coach Mark Dantonio was running didn’t fit him. Two weeks after that, Hunter Rison was off to Kansas State University and would sit out the 2018 season.
Approaching the beginning of 2019 spring ball, every review coming from the Kansas State Wildcats staff was a plus. Then by April of the same year, his life took a major turn.
Hunter Rison was arrested and later pleaded guilty to a battery charge after striking a woman with an open hand, according to a report from The Detroit News. He was suspended by Kansas State, and by June of 2019, he had enrolled at Fullerton.
It shook up his world. Being where he was in California, attending Fullerton really helped him focus on bettering himself.
“It’s something I had to learn from, I spent a lot of time trying to grow as a person, not just a player,” Hunter Rison said. “It was really tough, but now I feel like I’m in a better place all around. I feel better mentally, and I feel like (at Grand Valley), I’ve definitely found a home.”
BECOMING A LAKER
One of the biggest reasons Hunter Rison decided Grand Valley was a good fit for him was because of head coach Matt Mitchell.
In his 12th year at Grand Valley, Mitchell has created an atmosphere that Hunter Rison felt fit his personality.
“Coach Mitchell just has a great staff of people who really care about you as a person,” Hunter Rison said. “Coach (Mitchell), specifically, really cares about people — in the locker room, when we’re eating, if a guy needs a ride to class. It’s a really nice family atmosphere. It just feels like home.”
Mitchell not only liked the person he met, who seemed like a young man who had matured when they were introduced, but he also felt he could step in and help this team right away.
In 2019 before COVID-19 canceled the 2020 season, the wide receiving core was the weakest point on the team. He felt like adding an experienced talent such as Hunter Rison would help immediately.
“We like to get the full background on our history of transfers here at Grand Valley, and we like both the player and person in Hunter,” Mitchell said. “He not only started as a true freshman in the Big Ten, he also is a high character person that is a leader. He’s come in and put his actions where his mouth is, and I think his teammates have gravitated towards him.”
While that talent Mitchell alludes to at MSU came back in 2017, in 2019 at Fullerton, Hunter Rison showed he’s still more than capable of playing the game at a high level.
The 22-year-old caught 36 passes for 604 yards and seven touchdowns. He played in just seven games.
Now as a Grand Valley Laker, Hunter Rison believes he can fill whatever role the coaching staff and team needs of him.
“I’m not really worried about individual stats or anything like that,” he said. “I’m just ready to give my all for the team and see where this team takes us because we got a lot of really great guys. If we all just focus on our own role, and execute perfectly, nobody will be able to get us.”
GVSU finished 8-3 overall and 5-3 in GLIAC play in 2019 and now feels it added a group of transfers that will make them even more competitive to win the conference. Xavier Washington (Northwestern University) and Nate Umlor (University of Minnesota) join Hunter Rison in bringing experience from the Big Ten to the roster. Both Umlor and Washington play on the defensive line.
After a season off in 2020 because of the coronavirus, Hunter Rison and his fellow transfers are ready to get back on the field to live game action.
For Hunter Rison alone, the journey was longer than he could’ve ever pictured back when he became a Spartan back in 2017. Through all of the battles he had with himself and the game, football was always something he felt he could go back to.
On Sept. 2 against Edinboro University, he’ll make his debut at Lubbers Stadium in Allendale, a place he feels he can finally call home.
“Football is my safe haven, and once I finally got here, I was able to block out all of the outside noise,” Hunter Rison said. “I’m with my guys now, we can handle it from there. Look at (Lubbers Stadium), it’s probably nicer than a lot of Division I stadiums. We don’t view ourselves as playing in Division II, it’s all a mentality and we hold ourselves to the highest standards.
“I’m ready to go, and I’m happy I made it here to have that opportunity.”