By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Eric Nicholson
"Here, the Cowboys give you everything," Hunter says. "You have everything at your fingertips, or else it's already in your locker. They have guys to do everything for you. At Virginia Union, we had one guy who was wide receiver coach, financial aid adviser, strength and conditioning coach, and he put the lines on the field. Same guy. Man, that's what I'm talking about. I mean, in our weight room, we didn't even have 10-pound plates. We had to use double fives. Here, the weight room alone is bigger than our whole facility was in college. When I got up here, I was in awe, but I tried not to show it."
That was awfully hard considering HBO was in his hip pocket the whole time. They followed him everywhere with cameras and boom mikes. They documented everything: coaches yelling at him, Rocket Ismail and Joey Galloway running past him, everything. They caught a lot of his quality plays, too, but they didn't capture what they'd hoped--another unceremonious cut. Those make for good, dramatic TV. They got Richmond Flowers' dismissal; they got Hunter's buddy, practice squad receiver DeVeren Johnson, too. But they didn't get Hunter. He had other ideas.
The exposure did make him a familiar face in Dallas, so much so that when he went to Wal-Mart to buy a DVD player, he was besieged by autograph seekers. The veterans heard all this, and caught his on-screen debut, and naturally busted his balls. They called him "Hollywood" and "Petey Beamen" (after Jamie Foxx's character, Willie Beamen, in Any Given Sunday). But the way he was portrayed on that show, it didn't look as though he had much of a shot at making the team. Then, the HBO crew didn't know his story. If they had, they might have expected things to unfold this way--with Hunter being talked about as a future contributor.
"I'm very pleased with what he's shown us; we're comfortable with what he can do," head coach Dave Campo says as the sun beats down on him outside the Valley Ranch practice facility.
"He has a rookie mentality right now," Cowboys mainstay Darren Woodson says. "His eyes are a little wide right now. I'm trying to get him to understand that it's his time right now. Not later, now. He's capable of doing that. Now he just has to believe it.
"It's a difficult step being a rookie. It takes awhile for things to click. That said, he's shown that he can be awfully good if he stays healthy."
"This is all I need right here; I don't need a lot of expensive things," says Hunter, who got all his furniture, including a king-size bed, on bargain at The RoomStore. The TV, meanwhile, only cost him $600 and a pair of tickets to a game at Texas Stadium. "I'm kinda cheap, actually. I don't need a lot of toys to play with. I don't really go out. I'm kind of a private person; I stick to myself. I'm going to get my mom a car, but that's about it. Maybe it's the way I was raised. I'm glad at the life I've lived and everything I had to go through. It made me appreciate everything a whole lot more. Nothing has ever been given to me; I've had to work for everything I've gotten."
Earlier today, at practice, Hunter was on the left corner for some goal line sets, working toward simple goals--a job and some respect. He was matched up on Joey Galloway. Quarterback Quincy Carter took a short drop, turned to his left and fired toward the orange end zone cone where he expected Galloway to be. Galloway was there, but Hunter, who had been trailing, jumped out from behind him and intercepted the pass. Pendergast started whooping approval. Hunter nodded and smiled.
"That felt good," Hunter says, still looking around his townhouse. "I got a chance out there and I made a play. One day, I'm going to be out there all the time; I'm going to get that chance. I'm the type of person, always have been, that I hate coming out of the game. One day they're going to leave me out there, and I'm going to show them that they made the right decision. And then I'm never looking back."