Like retiring McAfee, Colts previous punter Smith pursued another passion

Hunter Smith

ZIONSVILLE, Ind. (WTHR) – Former Indianapolis Colts punter Hunter Smith stands beneath an ancient white oak tree estimated at 335 years old, which leans slightly, but stands tall and wide on his property in Zionsville.

"So this is the wonder tree," said Smith Thursday afternoon. "This is why the farm is called Wonder Tree Farm."

Hunter Smith stands under the 335-year-old \"Wonder Tree" on his farm.
Hunter Smith stands under the 335-year-old "Wonder Tree" on his farm.

The tree sits on 18 acres where Hunter and his wife, Jennifer, and their four children are starting a cattle and chicken farm. They plan to be providing natural, organic fed beef and poultry to area families later this year.

"I grew up on a 1,000-acre cattle ranch," said Smith, a native of Sherman, Texas. "So this is really in my blood. It kind of makes sense to me. It's one of the things besides music that I've always wanted to do."

Smith played for the Colts for 10 seasons (1999-2008) before he was replaced by Pat McAfee in 2009.

Just like McAfee, Smith pursued another passion while punting. Smith sings and writes songs. McAfee loves comedy.

"I don't think that we are necessarily any different than other people," said Smith. "I think what it comes down to is we didn't believe early on that this was the only tool in our bag."

Hunter Smith Band is working on a third country/rock album and its biggest year of concerts. Smith also wrote a book, The Jersey Effect, about professional athletes finding purpose outside the game. He fully supports McAfee's retirement.

"I think Pat is a good representation of what it looks like when somebody says, 'You know what? I've played this out as long as I want to. It's time to move on to the next thing,'" said Smith.

McAfee and Smith have become friends. When they played golf together last year, Smith got the sense McAfee was tired of playing football with the accompanying knee surgeries and was more interested in comedy. But McAfee retires with about $6 million still on his contract for the next two years.

"It's a big, life-changing, future-changing financial reality that he's stepping away from," said Smith. "I think most guys are just afraid to leave that security. I think it speaks volumes. I think it says something about his character that 'You know what? That's great, but there's more to this than money.'"

Smith says retiring NFL players go through a big transition without the competition and camaraderie of teammates. Smith believes there is even a hormonal, physiological change inside former players. His first fall without football, Smith told a doctor he thought he had cancer. He just didn’t feel right.

His advice to McAfee?

"Keep people around you," said Smith. "Don't feel ashamed when you are a little down and missing it. The limelight will not be as bright on the other side, but the fulfillment if you're really doing what you're supposed to be doing in life will be wonderful."

Both punters became popular figures in Indianapolis beyond football.

"We are sitting here talking about a punter that retired," said Smith quizzically. "Has this ever happened before? We're talking about someone who really transcended the punting position. He was much more than a punter. He was somebody special in this community because of his personality. But it's very hard to maintain a high level of play and maintain a high level of visibility, and he pretty much did it."

Both punters have stayed in central Indiana after football.

"Indianapolis, in particular, holds on to its professional athletes well," said Smith. "I've watched that happen. It's not the weather. It's just the people and the community and raising children here."

Both punters used their hands to help field goal kickers, but have their hands full now with something else.

"Pat's the best specialist that's ever played for Indianapolis," said Smith. "The punting is superior. But the kickoff has not only been a huge weapon, but also has enabled an aging kicker to just kick field goals, and to kick field goals well. There are things you just can't quantify about his impact in the special teams for the Colts."

"Cuz I work on Sundays and a handful on Mondays. People see my job and they say only in the USA. I'm a paycheck stealer and a field goal dealer, but don't forget to call me by my name. I'm the most accurate holder to ever play the game." –Chorus of "Most Accurate Holder," written by Hunter Smith during his playing days as holder for kicker Mike Vanderjagt, at the time the most accurate field goal kicker in NFL history.