Sam Hunt began college at Middle Tennessee State University, where the football coach had him returning punts instead of playing quarterback, then transferred to the University of Alabama at Birmingham, where he had a promising junior year (58 percent completion percentage) followed by a disappointing senior year (10 touchdowns, 15 interceptions and only two wins in 12 games). In May 2008, while his pals were graduating, Hunt tried out for the NFL’s Kansas City Chiefs as an undrafted free agent. The Chiefs saw him play and didn’t invite him to training camp. Back home, Hunt shocked his relatives by announcing that he was moving to Nashville to be a country songwriter. No one in the family even knew he had been writing songs since he was 18.
“Maybe I was insecure, because being a football player was my identity. I didn’t see myself that way,” says Hunt. “But it took a long time before I decided to test out a song I’d written for my roommates, who were some of my closest buddies. I felt trapped inside a stereotype and was a little afraid to step out of it.”
Two months after his NFL tryout, Hunt stuffed a couple of mattresses into his mom’s minivan, raided the freezer for provisions and moved to Nashville with his hometown pal John Worthington, who’s now his road manager. Worthington was Misfit No. 1. “We were scraping the bottom of the barrel for years, just trying to get by,” says Hunt.