A slender woman in an orange jacket excused herself as she moved in between two onlookers at Tennessee’s pro day early Wednesday afternoon.
“I want to get a closer look,” she said.
Her name tag told you why: “Gloria Hunter.”
Her son, Justin Hunter, had just moved to center stage along with the other former UT receivers as the pitch-and-catch drill began before a thicket of NFL evaluators at the Tennessee indoor practice field.
You might think of pro day as all business. “The most important job interview of your life,” Justin called it.
But if you looked past the players trying to turn the heads of NFL scouts with a faster 40 or more reps in the bench press, you couldn’t ignore the human element. After the last weight was lifted and the final route was run, pro day resembled graduation day.
Players posed for pictures with family members — theirs and their teammates’. Gloria Hunter put her arm around Pittsburgh Steelers coach Mike Tomlin for another photo. Former Tennessee defensive tackle Montori Hughes, who finished his career at UT Martin, pointed to his fan club — three aunts and his girlfriend — in the limited bleacher seating.
The families didn’t come for the performance. They were there to touch base with family members who have been all but sequestered from the general public since their college season ended and preparation for the NFL draft began.
“I just wanted to see my son,” said Catherine Patterson of Rock Hill, S.C., whose son, wide receiver Cordarrelle Patterson, needed only one season of major-college football at UT to bridge the gap between junior college and the NFL.
As her son demonstrated his skills for the pros, she could remember one of his first sports’ auditions, a road game in Myrtle Beach, S.C. A 7-year-old Cordarrelle scored six touchdowns in one game.
Could she imagine him successfully negotiating all the hurdles from peewee football to the NFL?
“I knew he was blessed,” she said. “I just left it with the Lord.”
Hunter’s prowess also was evident at a young age, and it wasn’t confined to sports. His mother noticed right away that he could draw.
“He started out drawing different figures, then scenes,” she said. “We would be driving down the road, he would see stuff and draw it.”
The family soon noticed something else about
Justin. He could run faster and jump higher than anybody else in his age group.
His older brother, Sherman Macer, stressed early on how valuable those talents could be. Art became secondary. Gloria said her son will still draw her something when asked. But his focus has been elsewhere for a long time.
She remembers waiting for him while he caught passes late into the evening when football often didn’t extend beyond their neighborhood in Virginia Beach, Va.
“They had him out there, throwing to him till 10 o’clock,” she said. “I’d say, ‘Would you let my baby come in?’ ”
Justin kept following the ball, though. From high school All-American to second-team All-SEC to pro day.
He’s a surefire high-round draft pick now. And, even as his mother refers to him as “my baby,” she reminds herself that he has become “a grown man.”
They already have had the mother-son conversation that so often comes up before a future pro signs his first contract.
“He told me, ‘I’m going to look after you because you were there for me,’ ” Gloria said. “He knows I have a problem in my living arrangement.
“He said, ‘I’m going to get you a home.’ ”
That’s pro day, too.
John Adams is a senior columnist. He may be reached at 865-342-6284 or firstname.lastname@example.org.