The Rookie

Page 3 of 7

There was a time when, in Hunter's mind, playing in the NFL was as likely a possibility as jetting off to the south of France for raspberry scones. It's not that he didn't believe in his athletic ability. It's just when all you know is the casino world, where leaving town with loose change is considered a victory, big plans seem silly. You don't entertain lofty dreams. You imprison them in the back of your mind. Perhaps you visit them infrequently, just to make sure they haven't been shanked and left for dead.

Really, how can you dream of the spotlight when no one around you ever glowed any brighter or longer than a fading flashlight? (Hunter and Cleveland rookie running back William Green are the first A.C. natives ever to go pro. "Yeah, but he went to Catholic school," Hunter says, joking, "and you're not really from A.C. if you went to Catholic school, so I'm, like, the only one.") In Atlantic City, there aren't a whole lot of options. Actually, there are two: working in the casinos or working the streets.

His mother, Carol Derrick, chose the former. She did the best she could by her brood--Hunter has two older sisters, Juana and Joy--putting in long hours as a card dealer under the artificial light at Caesars Palace. It's been her post for the past 22 years.

Derrick raised her children in an intimate two-bedroom apartment and warned against the seductive cry of drugs and alcohol. It worked. Her kids never got into bad trouble, she says. She's not a big woman; she didn't yell. She just had this gaze. A glare, as Hunter calls it. She would cock her head and narrow her eyes and stare.

"That's how I brought my children up: I'd give them a look," Derrick says, laughing. "See, you do that when they're young, you understand? You do that when they're young, so that when they get older, they know better, and then it always works. But Pete never got into anything where I had to snatch him and say you're doing the wrong thing."

No, but there was one time that Hunter recalls getting the worst look he ever got from his mother, the worst look you could ever imagine. He was 18 and a senior in high school. His friends were always smoking weed or running with gangs or whatever. That was never Hunter's bag. He'd just as soon lie on that carpeted floor and watch the Eagles, or maybe the Discovery Channel. But this one time, he relented and went out with the boys. They got some beer and drank themselves drunk. That's what a lot of teen-agers do, and it was all pretty innocent and harmless. Or it would have been if Hunter hadn't been Carol Derrick's son.

"I was always scared of my mom," Hunter says with a bit of gravity. "I love her, but I was always scared of her. I'm glad I was. She did a good job of raising me. I never got locked up or put in the back of a police car, and that was 'cause of her. I didn't want to disappoint her. That night I did. I came in the house tipsy drunk. I was a kid, hanging out with the high school guys, doing the high school thing. I came in the house and my mom just looked at me with that look, and all she said was, 'You remind me of your dad.' That hurt me...man, that hurt me to the fullest. That ended everything after that. I won't even drink now. I don't touch the stuff now because of that."

His father and mother don't talk. His dad had a drug and alcohol problem that led to a stroke when Hunter was 15. Today his father is partially paralyzed and confined to a wheelchair. His dad went to the Eagles game Hunter played in; they're not estranged. But you understand what Derrick was getting at--that wasn't going to happen to her son.

So she did all she could. She didn't force them to work, but Hunter got a job anyway to put some spending money in his wallet. Early in high school he was a lifeguard at the beach. For the unfamiliar, the beach in Atlantic City is broken down like this: two parts nasty, gritty sand, one part garbage (discarded food wrappers, syringes and tourists). That got old quick, and he moved to that valet parking gig at Trump Plaza. Just across the way is Caesars, where his mother worked. She used to visit him on her breaks. They would talk or give each other a hug and then get back to the grind. The rest of the shift was Hunter alone with an assortment of deviants. Sunrise couldn't rescue him quick enough.

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John Gonzalez
Contact: John Gonzalez