When Gail Hunter found out the NFL draft was the same weekend as her birthday, she immediately knew what she wanted from her son Reggie.
Reggie Hunter, an All-MEAC linebacker who wrapped up an impressive career at N.C. Central in November, and thought he might be selected in a late round of the draft this past weekend. Gail, who celebrated her 50th birthday on Saturday, told her son all she wanted was for him to make it.
Saturday night, an hour after the draft ended, Hunter received a call from the Jacksonville Jaguars, inviting him to their rookie mini camp as an undrafted free agent. So Gail, who was surprised by her husband and three children with a birthday party, got an even better surprise when Reggie told her the news.
“I said ‘Reggie it would nice as a gift for you to be chosen,” Gail Hunter said on Monday. “He said, ‘OK, ma.’”
Digital Access for only $0.99
For the most comprehensive local coverage, subscribe today.
When the draft was over and Reggie’s hadn't been drafted, he assured Gail that everything would still be OK. So Reggie ventured off to a Food Lion and that’s when he received a call from his agent.
Hunter couldn’t wait to share the news, but there was one problem — his phone was dead. So he had to borrow a friends’ phone to call his mom.
“He said you got your birthday gift,” Gail Hunter said. “God answers prayers. That was one of the gifts that I wanted and he gave me the gift I wanted for my birthday.”
Hunter still faces an uphill battle to make the 53-man Jaguars' roster and earn a role with the best defense in the NFL last season, but he has a history of proving himself. After graduating from Southern Vance High School in Henderson, Hunter walked-on at NCCU. He redshirted the 2013 season, then was a special teams standout for two years before earning a starting spot in 2016.
He ended his career with 245 tackles, leaving Durham No. 11 on the all-time tackles list. Even as a starting linebacker, Hunter still played on the kickoff team for the Eagles. Hunter, who's 6-0 and 225 pounds, was a two-time All-MEAC first-team selection and a captain his senior season. He led the team in tackles the last two years, and even led the team with four interceptions in 2016. That same year the Eagles won the MEAC outright and advanced to the Celebration Bowl.
“Reggie understands that things in life are not given,” NCCU interim head coach Granville Eastman said. “He embraces that process. That’s why you don’t bet against a guy like that, and that’s why he will always overachieve.”
After the season, Hunter talked with a few NFL teams and figured he would be a late round pick in the draft, if not, an invite to a mini-camp would help him get his foot in the door.
Hunter said he can’t remember his initial reaction to getting the call from Jacksonville, but a friend told him he was skipping and jumping in the store.
Meanwhile, his mom was at a birthday party her family had a hard time getting her to. Gail sat in front of the television from the start of the draft, waiting to hear her son's name. Getting her out the house, for her own celebration, took some convincing.
Reggie Hunter made sure he stayed occupied while he waited. He did anything he could to take his mind off of football, even going out and cutting grass in the neighborhood.
“He was in and out, and I was just sitting there,” Gail Hunter said. “I told him I wasn’t moving. I was just anxious, more anxious than he was, just waiting.”
The Jaguars invited 13 undrafted free agents to rookie camp, including two other linebackers. Jacksonville also drafted a linebacker, Leon Jacobs from Wisconsin, in the 7th round of the draft. If Hunter is to make the roster, he will have to make an impact on special teams, and once again prove himself.
But that's not an issue, he said.
“I’m used to starting from the bottom,” he said. “It makes me work harder.”