By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
"What was I going to do, say no?" Hunter says. "I thought, 'At least they want me.' I knew I could play, I just had to show everyone. If I had to show them at Virginia Union, that was OK with me.
"I never really thought in terms of making it to the NFL, but I wanted to prove people wrong and at least play college ball, because no matter where I went, everybody said I couldn't do it. They said I wouldn't be any good at the college level."
It was a hot day, about 100 degrees. Bailey had worked his charges pretty hard that afternoon, so he ordered some seven-on-seven drills to slow things down. Hunter started to backpedal with his man when all of a sudden he threw up in the middle of the play. Just started booting pieces of undigested lunch all over the field, which was unfortunate for two reasons. First, it's kind of hard to run with a wideout when you're projectile vomiting. Second, because Virginia Union's practice field is also its game field.
Anyway, Bailey caught all this and signaled for someone to replace the sophomore. Hunter went ballistic and started cussing. No way he was coming out. He wiped his mouth with the back of his forearm and kept going. He didn't miss a play.
"When I saw that, I knew he was going to be something special," Bailey says fondly. "I couldn't have drug him out of there for anyone or anything. He fought. That's the way he was. I still get a laugh out of that, oh yeah. But the dude from the Ravens, I remember he turned to me and said, "'That's the type of guy we're looking for.' That's what he said to me right there on the field. Pete only got better from there."
He was everywhere in college. Kick return, kick block, punt block, starting defense and nickel packages. He would have played in the band at the half if they would have let him. He never came off the field. Or, if he did, it was only because the game was in hand and Bailey drug him from the action, Hunter screaming the entire way. He was a three-time all-CIAA selection and finished his career with 20 interceptions.
During Hunter's senior year, he had 11 interceptions in 11 games and earned All-America honors. The Panthers even beat their rivals, the Winston-Salem State Rams, in the regular season for the first time in 17 years. The night before the rematch with the Rams, which also happened to be the conference championship, the CIAA held its annual banquet. Considering the unreal season he'd turned in, everyone figured that Hunter was a lock for the defensive player of the year award. They figured wrong. Some cat from Winston-Salem won instead.
"That kind of hurt me," Hunter says. "I had a good season; I worked hard. People were talking about where I was going to get drafted. I felt like I was finally getting some respect. And then they gave it to someone else. So I made sure I showed them they made a mistake."
In the title game, Hunter had three interceptions against the Rams. Virginia Union won. The championship ring he earned that day sits in plain view in his townhouse, a reminder of what the slighted can achieve.
Wrong again. The NFL power brokers weren't interested in hosting some Division II wasshisnameagain? when it could flirt with the big-school progeny. No matter. He simply held private workouts at Virginia Union nearly every day until the day before the draft.
"A lot of the time I wasn't even fresh," Hunter says. "When you're benching every day, running the 40 every day, backpedaling every day, it's hard. But I wasn't in the position that the guys from the D-I schools were. I couldn't say no; I needed the exposure."
Did he ever. "At Virginia Union, you get one pair of cleats to make it through the whole season," says Alvin Parker, one of Hunter's best friends and the special teams and running backs coach for the Panthers. "You get two jerseys, one for practice, one for games. That's it. If you get a hole in your jersey, we take it to the cleaners and they patch it up."