Helena’s Hunter Hale ready to tackle every facet of the game during senior season
Published 4:23 pm Tuesday, August 8, 2023
Written by Andrew Simonson | Photos by Jeremy Raines
As Helena Huskies’ star Hunter Hale prepares for his senior season, it’s the end of a long road.
It’s a road that has been paved with the bonds he has grown with his family and friends, playing time at nearly every position and a deep love for his lifelong hometown of Helena.
Hale has played football for about as long as he can remember. His first year of tackle football was when he was in first grade, where he was a quarterback. His dad taught him nearly everything about football fundamentals, and the bond between them grew as the years of playing together went on.
“Me and my dad would just go outside, we’d throw the football,” Hale said. “I would learn how to tackle, learn how to catch the ball, throw the ball, all of that.”
He went on to play quarterback through his time at Helena Middle School, when he first showed flashes of the athleticism and versatility that he possesses today. He made the switch to receiver, and while he was excited for the challenge, one person definitely wasn’t.
“My dad, he was mad at me when I did it, because I told him that I wanted to play receiver and he didn’t understand why at first, but then I was able to tell him and he started to understand,” Hale said.
Hale played both offense and defense for the Huskies in middle school and impressed during his time there. Helena High coach Richie Busby and his assistants took notice when they scouted the middle school games. Even though Hale’s versatility was a good problem to have, they still had to figure out which side of the ball he’d play on.
“He’s one of those players when he came up, you’re like, ‘What are we going to do with him?’” Busby said. “‘The kid can play on both sides of the ball. Who’s going get him on their side of the ball? Was coach (Jim) Elgin getting him on defense or was coach (Keith) Maple going to get him on offense?’”
Technically, neither won, because Hale was a kick returner when he joined the varsity team as a freshman. Freshman returners are a rarity in 6A and 7A, but Hale showed enough skill that he got the nod at a young age. Busby still believes that Hale’s returning skills are an underrated part of his game.
“He does such a good job of tracking the ball,” Busby said. “The ball doesn’t hit the ground a whole lot. I mean, he’s been returning kicks for us since he was a ninth grader. And that’s a scary thing to put a ninth grader back there. But we entrusted him to do that, and he did a good job for us in that area.”
An even more rare sight at a big school like Helena is someone who plays in all three facets of the game—offense, defense and special teams. But Hale does just that for Helena, and he’ll suit up as their starting wide receiver, cornerback and kick returner for the third straight season.
The reason why it’s so rare is mostly because of the physicality that 6A football presents. Hale’s athleticism and the way he takes care of his body makes it easier for coach Busby to throw him in on all three phases.
“That’s the hard thing about young guys coming up out of middle school,” Busby said. “A lot of them played both sides of the ball down there, and then they come out and they’re really good on both sides, which way are we going to go with this kid? Because as you know, in 6A and 7A football, it’s hard for them to play both sides the whole game with the talent they’re playing against. But Hunter’s able to do it, he’s always in great physical shape.”
As the years have gone on, Hale’s role has kept expanding for Helena. He can get carries as a running back, throw the ball if needed and play any position in the passing game on either side of the ball. Hale said getting to be a multiple-position player has been fun because he can impact the game more.
“I felt good about myself,” Hale said of the move to multiple positions. “I felt like I was able to contribute to the team a lot more, able to be everywhere on the field.”
Much of those position changes have come down to trust between Hale and the coaching staff, which has been a constant since he joined the Huskies. He plays with a toughness that is needed to play on both sides of the ball, and he’s played through almost any added injuries that he suffered as a result of the increase in snaps.
His drive to improve and be the best at whatever he is given makes it easier for Busby and his assistants to trust Hale with more responsibilities.
“He has performed on the field in every role we’ve put him in,” Busby said. “Never misses practice, never late, gives us everything he’s got, every drill, every time in the weight room. So, when a kid is where they’re supposed to be all the time, doing what they’re supposed to do and doing it as well as they can, you build trust pretty quickly with them.”
Hale’s work ethic has made him an easy player for both Helena coaches and fans to root for during his time with the Huskies.
“You want to see him succeed because he puts so much into it and he cares so much about it,” Busby said.
That drive to be better and work hard gets noticed by Hale’s teammates. Hale has developed into a true leader for the Huskies alongside his growth as a player and an athlete, and most of it is leading by example.
Hale does step up as a vocal leader at times, but he sees himself as a mix of both leading with his words and actions.
“I mean, I’m a pretty vocal guy,” Hale said. “I talk to everyone, make sure they are doing what they’re supposed to do. I just think by going out there and just going 100 percent and doing everything I can do to be the best I can just shows other people on my team that I need to work hard to.”
Busby highlighted the actions side of it, but knows there’s a vocal side to Hale that he’s excited to see step up this season.
“Hunter is a big leader by example,” Busby said. “When the game’s over, you’re going to tell that kid’s been in a football game, he’s given everything he has. He will get vocal at times when he needs to, and hopefully we’ll see more of that this year as he steps into his senior year. But he’s always been a leader by example with effort and passion for the game, and that’s what you definitely want to see first. Hopefully this year, he’ll be a more vocal leader, because your vocal leaders have got to be the guys that are doing everything you asked them to do, not cutting corners and always doing what’s best for the team.”
Over his football career, Hale has grown closer to his teammates and coaches as time has gone on. He is a lifelong Helena kid, and suiting up for his hometown team to represent the community he loves means everything to him. Those relationships with his teammates, coaches, friends and family are why he puts on the helmet every day and what he loves most about Helena.
“I love playing with everyone, all my teammates, I love them all,” Hale said. “They’re my best friends. I love the coaching staff, I’m friends with all of them, like best friends. I know them all well, can joke with them, everything. I just love playing at Helena.”