The Rookie

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"That was crazy," Hunter says, shaking his head. His arms tense. "If you live there, it's hard to find things to do because everything is set around the tourists. What do you do for fun? Nothing. I played a lot of sports and kept busy working. But my friends, a lot of them took the wrong route--drinking and selling drugs, getting into gangs, getting locked up, that sort of shit. Just trying to stay focused in that area is really, really hard. Hell, just trying to play football there is hard. No one thinks football when they think of A.C. Not a lot of colleges come there to recruit. I mean, it's crazy because, the year after I graduated--this will give you an example--the year after I left, they won a state championship, and none of those guys went to college. Not one of them. No senior went to college."

Hunter can sympathize. He was an honor student in high school and a star on the field, and he almost didn't make it out. Few colleges bothered to contact him; fewer still came to see him. When he looked through his scholarship offers, it didn't take long because he had only one: Virginia Union, some school in Richmond that he'd never heard of and wasn't all that thrilled over.

When you're limited to a single choice, at least you don't have to suffer through a taxing decision process.

"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."

Willard Bailey remembers the first time he saw Hunter shine. Hunter was a sophomore under Bailey, who has been Virginia Union's head coach since 1995. A representative from the Baltimore Ravens was at practice that day (despite being a small school, the Panthers have produced a few pros, including basketball players Charles Oakley and Ben Wallace, and former Cowboy Herb Scott). Now, the scout was there to see another player, some senior, but that notion never entered Hunter's mind. He figured if there was an NFL scout on hand, he had better play well.

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.

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John Gonzalez
Contact: John Gonzalez