Singer Sam Hunt celebrates his days as a Blazer

Before he became Nashville’s hottest rising star, Sam Hunt first gained fame as UAB’s quarterback. Now, as he prepares for a sold-out concert kicking off #TheReturn of Blazer football, the 2008 graduate reveals how UAB helped shape his award-winning, chart-topping signature sound.
Written by: UAB Magazine
Media contact: Jim Bakken, jimb@uab.edu


Photo of Sam Hunt performing on stage; headline: Sam Hunt's Homecoming

When he graduated from UAB in 2008, he was known as Sam Hunt, UAB Blazers quarterback. Today he’s the Sam Hunt, award-winning, chart-topping singer-songwriter.

And he’s excited to show some love for his alma mater at the UAB House Party with Sam Hunt, a special concert the night before Blazer football’s long-awaited return to the field. The sold-out September 1 event, presented by the UAB Bookstore, will be Hunt’s first performance in Birmingham since his CD release show in 2014. “[Birmingham] is one of the places I’ve lived in long enough for it to feel like home,” Hunt says. “It certainly has a homecoming feel every time I go to Birmingham, and it always will.”

Photo of Sam HuntPhoto by John ShearerMusic mix

Attending college in the city had a big impact on the boy from rural Cedartown, Georgia. Growing up, Hunt had been an avid music fan, but preferred playing football to playing music. He transferred to UAB in 2005 to join the Blazers and to study philosophy, later switching majors to earn a bachelor of arts in economics. At UAB, “my taste in music really evolved,” he says.

For example, Hunt started learning how to play the secondhand guitar he had picked up when he was 18. At the time, it was a way to relax from the demands of his football training schedule. But then “I started writing songs, and my passion for music grew into a place where I wanted to pursue it as a career,” Hunt says.

Though his focus at the time was on country music, Hunt’s football teammates introduced him to other genres. “I grew up in a small town, and the music culture there was not as diverse as in Birmingham,” he says. “A lot of my good buddies didn't listen to country at all. I was exposed to a lot of different styles of music that they listened to and grew up with, and hip hop was a big part of that influence.”

This exposure shaped Hunt’s signature sound — country with heavy infusions of pop, hip hop, and rhythm and blues. “I was around it all the time,” he says. “The beats and the rhythms and the style got into my blood.” (See Hunt perform with the renowned UAB Gospel Choir in 2007.)

Back road to success

Hunt became a free agent for the NFL's Kansas City Chiefs after graduating, but this time, he realized his heart lay in music, not pro sports. He recorded a couple of the songs he had written before packing up and moving to Nashville.

Photo of Sam Hunt performing with lights in backgroundPhoto by Connor DwyerThough Hunt wasn’t a traditional country songwriter, his work was quickly picked up and recorded by top stars. His co-writing credits include the hits “Come Over” for Kenny Chesney, “Cop Car” for Keith Urban, and “We Are Tonight” for Billy Currington. “At that point, the idea that I could make a living in the music business became more of a reality than just this vague pipe dream I’d had toward the end of my college career,” Hunt recalls.

And then he landed a record deal. “Things have been moving so fast that I haven't really been able to stop and look back,” Hunt says. His 2014 album, Montevallo, brought together the musical influences of his rural childhood and college experience. It also spawned five singles, four of which topped the Billboard Country Airplay charts — the most ever from a debut album for a solo male vocalist—and helped him earn two Grammy nominations and win the 2015 American Music Award for New Artist of the Year.

Hunt’s latest single, “Body Like a Back Road,” is his biggest hit to date. As of August 1, it has spent a record 25 weeks atop Billboard’s Hot Country Songs chart and become a crossover success on pop radio. The Washington Post recently named the tune a top contender for 2017’s “song of the summer.”

Inspiration and dedication

Hunt’s time at UAB “has certainly provided a lot of inspiration for songwriting,” he says. “That was one of the most social times in my life, and I was able to learn a lot and grow up a lot during those years.” Other lessons have helped him navigate Nashville: “Playing ball and going to school required discipline and dedication,” he says. “That helped instill the work ethic that being successful in the music industry requires.”

There’s another reason UAB has a special place in his heart: He met his wife on campus. While hanging out with friends one afternoon during the spring of his senior year, a mutual friend introduced the two. “[I was] pretty much head over heels from the beginning,” Hunt says. “She had me at hello, as they say.” The couple dated on and off for nine years before marrying in April 2017. Montevallo is named for his wife’s Alabama hometown.

While Hunt is in town for his concert, which also features singer-songwriters Maren Morris and Ryan Follese, he plans to visit the place where he and his wife met — and drive around to observe how the city has changed. He’s eager to “see all of the progress that the [UAB] campus has made downtown,” he says.

Most of all, the former quarterback is ready to celebrate his team’s return. “I’m a big supporter of UAB athletics and the football program,” Hunt says. “I’m thankful that I’m able to offer a little moral support with this show. I look forward to getting back down to Birmingham to be part of the excitement.”

Photo of Sam Hunt performing at Virginia Beach concertSam Hunt revs up the crowd at a concert in Virginia Beach, Virginia. Photo by Connor Dwyer.

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