Florida State Football: 2014 Has Special Significance for Hunter, Haplea

Bob Ferrante@@bobferranteContributor IAugust 6, 2014

Tyler Hunter is excited about the chance to return to the practice field for FSU and he's battling for a starting job at safety.
Tyler Hunter is excited about the chance to return to the practice field for FSU and he's battling for a starting job at safety.USA TODAY Sports

Tyler Hunter played in just three games last season for the Florida State football team before suffering a neck injury. Kevin Haplea's year was done in the summer when he had a knee injury. 

Both were on the sideline and forced to watch the BCS Championship Game from a distance.

That changes in 2014, as both Hunter and Haplea are in position to see significant playing time. Hunter is competing for a starting job at safety with Nate Andrews. And Haplea won't start over Nick O'Leary, but FSU will use more formations with two tight ends—especially in the red zone.

Hunter, a junior, was all smiles after Monday's first preseason practice. Players weren't allowed by the NCAA's acclimation rules to be in pads yet and there's very little hitting, but Hunter said his neck felt "like it never happened."

"It's amazing just to be back out there," Hunter said. "Been waiting on this for a long time. Just like a kid. Taking every play. Just loving it. I've been waiting on this moment for a long time."

Hunter had 26 tackles and three interceptions in 2012 and started three games at nickel corner. But just three games into last season, Hunter went down during a mid-September win over Bethune-Cookman. He wasn't able to play again, and in October he opted to have surgery on a bulging disc.

Hunter was able to play in the spring but wasn't cleared for contact. Now he's been given the green light.

"He's like a kid at Christmas," FSU coach Jimbo Fisher said. "It's like he's two or three when you first started knowing Santa Claus is coming. To me as a coach it's very rewarding. That tells you how much it means to him."

Alan Diaz/Associated Press

Haplea, a junior, has been wearing a knee brace for a year since having surgery in July of 2013. He caught three passes for 15 yards and a touchdown in 2012 after transferring from Penn State, and Haplea figured to be more involved in the offense last year.

But after a year on the sideline, Haplea said he's excited for FSU's season opener on Aug. 30 against Oklahoma State.

"I've been running faster than I was before I got hurt," Haplea said. "I'm looking forward to the season."

As FSU looks for a consistent No. 2 receiver after losing Kelvin Benjamin and Kenny Shaw, the transition is eased by the return of two experienced tight ends. Fisher plans to use O'Leary and Haplea to provide run support and catch passes.

"He ought to have a great year for us," Fisher said. "We're counting on him." 

Bob Ferrante is the Florida State Lead Writer for Bleacher Report. All quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. Follow Bob on Twitter.