By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Eric Nicholson
It was no wonder, then, that when it came time to send out highlight tapes to the scouts, Hunter had to, uh, improvise. There was no real video equipment at Virginia Union, no team videographer. So Hunter did it himself. He grabbed the game footage (shot on home video cameras) and stuck two VCRs together and made a tape that way. The quality of the finished product was pretty poor. "It looked like a bootleg off the street," Hunter says with a chuckle. "It was all grainy and shit. You could barely see me."
One of the tapes he shipped off landed in the hands of Pendergast, who saw something through all the gray static. Rather than sending a scout, the Boys' secondary coach went out to see Hunter for himself.
"The day before [Pendergast] showed, the locker room was cleared out," Hunter says. "See, this is how things went at Virginia Union. We didn't get new shit; we got all our shit reconditioned. So the day before he came to see me, they took all the cleats to be reconditioned. When he got there, I didn't have any cleats to wear for the workout. I'm looking around the locker--I wear a size 12--and I see a pair of shoes way over in the corner, almost hidden behind a box. It was an old-ass pair of shoes. Size 10. That wasn't even all. I'm saying, these shoes were old...they weren't even the cleats with the screws in them, they were the molded kind. The molded plastic kind--Nike Sharks from like 1986. You remember them? Yeah, that's what I did my workout in. Old-ass cleats that were too small for me."
Pendergast kept telling Hunter to stop working out, to not worry about it, considering the circumstances. "I was like, nah, you came all the way out here to see me; I'm gonna finish the workout. And I did. You know, the whole time I was worried about my feet, just thinking about my shoes. But it turned out that I ran, like, a 4.4 [40 time] that day. He must have liked what he saw."
"First of all, we're very close," Carol Derrick says. "It was a very important thing that was about to happen, and I wanted us all to be together. But he had that term paper he was working on. He said he wasn't budging till he was done with it."
It was the final paper he had to do to earn his degree in criminology. He wrote a large part of it from Parker's couch as the first day of the draft unfolded--wrote it while trying to pay attention to the developing drama and answer two cell phones and a land line all at once.
In retrospect, it was probably better that he didn't go back to Jersey for the draft. Despite hearing rumors about where he'd be taken, and by whom--no later than the third round (meaning a day-one selection of the two-day draft) is what he'd been clinging to--the first day came and went without his name being called. Dealing with the disappointment was hard enough; doing so in the company of his family would have been unbearable.
"I was watching, and I thought, 'OK, here's where I'm gonna get picked,'" Hunter says. "But it didn't happen. I kept watching these guys go before me--guys who I knew I was bigger than, guys who I was stronger than or quicker than--and I'm like, what's going on? But they went to Wisconsin or Florida. That pissed me off."
Hunter stayed at Parker's that night. He might have gone home if he had had ESPN, but he didn't, so he grabbed a pillow and curled up on Parker's couch, long, slender legs dangling out from under the too-small blanket.
"I was still asleep when it started again," Parker says. "He woke me up. The phones did, too. Everyone was calling."
On the second day, in the fifth round, the New Orleans Saints were poised to take Hunter. All they had to do was wait for New England to hurry up and pick, then it would be their turn and Hunter would be on his way to the Big Easy. Before all that could unfold, Pendergast called and learned of the Saints' interest. He quickly hung up with Hunter, but then called back moments later.
"He said, 'Watch this, we just traded for the Pats' pick to get you,'" Hunter says. "Next thing I know, the ESPN ticker stops, the music goes and I'm announced as a Dallas Cowboy. It was the best feeling I've ever had. It was amazing."
The euphoria didn't last long. The next day Hunter went on the Cowboys' official Web site and checked out what the fans were saying about their fifth-round small-school pick. They were saying a lot, actually, but not much of it was good.
"They were bagging on me hard," Hunter says. "They were like, 'Who? You traded up to get who?' But, like I said, that type of shit ain't nothing new to me."