When Coastal Carolina first joined the FBS in 2017, few imagined the program would be a nationally ranked squad competing in prime time games within its first five seasons. While much of the credit goes to Greyson McCall, Isaiah Likely, and the remaining offensive superstar talent, defensive standouts such as Tarron Jackson, D’Jordan Strong, and Jeffrey Gunter often fly under the radar in their role in elevating Coastal onto the national stage.
Gunter, standing at 6’4” 260 pounds out of the Bandit spot in the Coastal defense, exited his collegiate career as a 3x All Sun Belt nominee, twice being named first team all league at the edge spot. Over his final two seasons at Coastal, Gunter was extremely productive, compiling 99 tackles, 13 sacks, 22.5 TFLs, 8 FFs, 1 FR, 1 INT, 3 PDs. Within his 2020 campaign, where he had 12.5 TFLs and 6 FFs, Gunter displayed the ability to generate turnovers at a high clip, making it easy to imagine his role in a modern NFL defense, particularly in Pittsburgh where Mike Tomlin and Teryl Austin predicate their defensive philosophy on generating pressure and creating turnovers at a high rate.
After consecutive standout seasons in his junior and senior campaigns, Gunter received invitations from both the NFLPA bowl and the East-West Shrine Game, ultimately choosing to attend the Shrine Bowl in Vegas. During the practice week, Gunter was able to repeatedly stand out for his ability to push the pocket and generate consistent pressure in team sessions, showing the ability to effectively set the edge in the run game as well. In the game, Gunter flashed once again as a pass rusher, helping collapse the pocket on the West roster’s quarterback room, and finishing the All-Star game with a tackle and a quarterback hit.
Already possessing above average length and solid functional strength for the position, Jeff talked to me about his goals to improve his hand usage as a pass rusher, as well as improving his ability to key sets at the next level. From what I witnessed in my attendance of East practice sessions, Jeff possesses solid ankle, knee, and hip mobility, which allows him to bend the edge at a high rate for a player of his age and experience. If he is able to continue adding detail to his pass rush plan, it is conceivable that Gunter has the potential to develop into a high level pass rusher in year two or three, after starting as a special teams contributor and rotational pass rusher as a rookie.
Below, I have a full audio transcription of my conversation with Gunter, which took place after Day 1 of Shrine Bowl practice on Saturday afternoon.
Owen: I’m a big fan of your game, it’s good to finally be talking to you. How was your first day going out there playing the edge?
Jeff: Today, I feel like I did a lot of good things. You know what I’m saying? I was a little rusty at the beginning, but I got my footing and I feel like I made some plays, man. I definitely feel like day two is gonna be a lot better, you know?
Owen: Absolutely. Going into today’s practice, did you find any of the offensive linemen to be particularly tough in your reps in 1v1s and team sessions?
Jeff: I think they’re all talented. I think you wouldn’t be here if you couldn’t play brother, not just feel like this, this game is just jam packed with guys that are gonna be starters and stars at the next level. So I’m happy to be here, bro. I’m happy.
Owen: There were some really talented players on some of those recent coastal defenses from 2019-2021. Who were a couple guys on that defense that along with yourself, helped vault Coastal onto the national stage at the FBS level?
Jeff: Oh yeah. I got a long list, so get ready. I got my dog CJ Brewer, he’s coming out in the draft this year too, he’s a beast at the three tech. You know what I’m saying? He doesn’t get a lot of attention, but I feel like he’s legitimately one of the best players in the country. I got my dog Silas and my dog Teddy. They’re both my middle linebackers. They’re beasts, bro. Students of the game. They both have great football IQ and they’re coming out this year too. Whoever gets them is gonna be a lucky, lucky team, you know? I also got my dog Alex Spillum. He’s a safety coming out this year as well, man, he’s a beast. He’s one of the most athletic people I’ve ever met in my life. So, you know what I’m saying? We got a lot of guys just on defense alone.
Then we got my dog, Jaivon Heiligh, he’s a receiver. He’s actually at the Shrine Bowl as well. He’s a monster. He went for like a thousand yards or something this year, he had a great year. Then we got our tight end, Isaiah Likely, he’s coming out in this year’s draft too. He’s at the Senior Bowl. We’ve just got a lot of talent, bro. That’s not even counting the young guys. We just got talent everywhere, man. We were legitimately one of the most talented teams in the country.
Owen: Specifically when BYU took the game on short notice and came into Brooks Stadium on short notice for a big prime time game, that was the first time I got introduced to Tarron Jackson, D’Jordan Strong, yourself, and the rest of that talented defense. What was it like playing in a prime time, nationally televised game against the 2020 2nd overall pick in Zach Wilson and chasing around such a mobile guy all night?
Jeff: He’s a lot faster than he looks, so it was tough. He’s definitely good competition and I can see why he was the second overall pick brother. He was fantastic. I was so riled up for that game. My juices were flowing, I was ready to go. We could have played in a parking lot and I would’ve still been there ready to go. But, you know, that was a dream coming true, bro. I don’t know what I did to deserve that game, but just getting that W, you know what I’m saying? And being able to feel that feeling, I wouldn’t trade it for anything.
Owen: Was that the best win of your football career so far?
Jeff: Oh 100%. Like even winning the bowl game. We won a bowl game this year, the first in school history, and I still think winning over BYU was a little bit better. Like, you know what I’m saying? It was just something about that game. I don’t know what it was, but maybe it was the ESPN game day or what it was, but that was, that was my best win for sure.
Owen: There’ve been a lot of talented players to wear the number 94 over the years, you know, DeMarcus Ware, Mario Williams, just to name a few. Are there any of those guys you looked up to in your decision to wear the number or just kind of you being and you?
Jeff: 94 was given to me. I’m a really big DeMarcus Ware fan. Not so much Mario Williams. He went to North Carolina State, but it was kind of given to me. When I got to college, I was like, I’m gonna make a number, I’m not gonna, get a single digit number. I said, whatever number they give me outta high school, I’m gonna take it, I’m gonna run with it and I’m gonna make it known for that, and I think 94 is pretty well known around Coastal.
Owen: I definitely respect you for that. When I came into college, I got the number 31 as a freshman and quickly transitioned to 21 as soon as I could. I was like, man, I’m not wearing this. So I respect you for making the best of the number they gave you. You had 6 ½ sacks and 10 tackles for losses last season, and it feels like you are really starting to live in the backfield more and more. Is that a lot of hand usage stuff or what are you working on to become more of a penetrator at that level? Yeah.
Jeff: Yeah, I just feel like I gotta be better with my hands. I know I can slam inside and get into the backfield pretty much whenever I’d like to, but just being more technically sound and just becoming a better football player in general. It’s gonna help me a lot at the next level, and yeah, it’s just mainly about being more detail oriented.
Owen: In regards to playing in a 3-4 vs 4-3, stand up vs. playing with your hand in the dirt, do you feel like you can do it all or you feel like there’s one of the two schemes that you’re a little more comfortable with right now?
Jeff: At Coastal we did everything. So like we were at a 3-4 team, 3-4 was our base defense, but we had a lot of 4-3 principles, along with some 3-3-5 principles. So, I feel like in any defense that I’m put in, I can find a role and be productive at it, you know? Because I had experience at it in college, so yeah, absolutely.
Owen: In your process of transitioning towards these All Star games and working towards the next level, what are like the one or two things where you’re like, man, you know, I’m a good player right now, but I can work on these one or two things in my process of moving to the next level?
Jeff: I can always become a better pass rusher. Pass rush is the name of the game and if you can get sacks and pressures, you’ll be in the league a long time. So I just feel like if I can work on my hand usage, get off, keying sets, and just things of that nature bro, I’ll be in the league for a while. I hope I can be one of the greats, you know what I’m saying? Like Maxx Crosby or Aaron Donald, and have my name and lights like them.
Owen: Absolutely. Going to the next level, you’re always gonna cut your teeth on special teams. Do you have any experience playing on special teams at Coastal and if so, what roles were you in on special teams there?
Jeff: Yeah, when I was a young bull, they had me on everything. So like my freshman and sophomore year, I was pretty much playing every special teams unit. As I got older, they took me off of most units. But when I was younger I did everything. I think it would be fun to get back to that. You know what I’m saying?
Owen: Who were the one or two NFL teams that you primarily found yourself rooting for growing up?
Jeff: So my favorite player was Michael Strahan when I was younger. So I was always a Giants fan. When they beat Tom Brady, I went crazy both times. Right now I’m a Bengals fan, Joe Brrrr, Joe sheisty. You know what I’m saying? He’s out there going crazy. And just the swag they play with his dope.
Owen: Yeah, absolutely. They are a fun young team to watch. Moving toward the next couple practices, what are the things you feel you can build on after a productive first day?
Jeff: Technique. The coaches are telling me where I can get to the ball. It’s all about, playing with my hands, being more physical and showing max effort. I’m here to compete, I’m here to get better and I’m here to be the best football player I can be. I’m gonna do all three of those things.
Owen: Absolutely. I had you charted with some pressures on a couple of reps today, and took notice of you consistently pushing the pocket. So it’s definitely good to see you out there doing your thing and yeah, that’s pretty much all I have for you. Good luck the rest of the week. It’s been good talking to you, man.
Jeff: I appreciate you brother man. I had a pretty good day today, man. But like I said, I gotta keep building and keep getting better, man. Just watch me get comfortable, that’s all I gotta say.
Owen: Absolutely. It’s been nice talking to ya Jeff. I appreciate your time.
In the modern NFL, where edge rushers are moved around more than ever and position versatility is viewed as a major positive, a player in Jeff Gunter who has shown the ability to rush the passer at a high level both as an edge both from a stand up two point stance or with his hand in the dirt, provides coveted versatility. Moreover, Gunter provides some ability to rush from the inside in sub packages and three edge packages, where his size and mobility could add some juice to a teams ability to harass quarterbacks on obvious passing downs.
Notable in his measurements Gunter’s 33 4/8” arms give him extremely solid length for the position, a trait which should help him battle against the lengthier offensive tackles and guards which he will face in his transition to the next level. Wherever he lands in April’s draft, Jeffrey Gunter will surely provide any team with a high effort player able to set strong edge’s in the run game, penetrate into the backfield at a healthy rate, and provide strong baseline tools as a pass rusher as he continues to refine his technique and hand usage.