By DJ Moore
I don’t know how it happened, but growing up in Spartanburg, South Carolina, I found myself being a devoted Seminoles fan. The kick goes wide right. I had all that pain of watching all of those missed kicks. As a Florida State fan, I looked forward to the big rivalry game vs. Miami every year.
It was Devin Hester who made me root for a guy on the Miami football team. It took a lot for me to do that. I remember watching him, and it seemed like every time he touched the ball, it went for a touchdown. If Miami needed a score, boom there he went down the sideline. It truly puzzled me that teams kicked to him. Over the time of watching him, I became a massive fan. There are some athletes who are just unique.
Before every game in high school, I would watch Devin Hester’s highlights to get ready for the games. I, being an electric punt returner, I wanted to be him. I truly felt like I was him when I was on the field. They would kick it to me, and I would run it back for a touchdown. Eventually, they started kicking the ball out of bounds. You couldn’t tell me I wasn’t the second coming of Hester.
The Miami vs. Duke game was on the television. Hester was back to receive the punt, and of course, Duke kicked him the ball. He caught the punt, paused to gather his thoughts for a quick second, then burst right, then left, then turns in a circle, then right again and eventually up to the sideline. Undoubtedly, Duke’s tackling was horrible, but what he did was plain awesome. I got it in my head that I would do that exact return. If I could pull it off, they would have us both on ESPN side by side. They would show how similar the punt returns were.
The game day had arrived, and like many teams in high school, we played under the big lights on Friday nights. Coach yelled for the punt return to get ready. I was set on the 50-yard line as the punter kicked 10 yards from his own goal line, shanking the ball. The ball went directly straight in the air and fell 20 yards from where he was set up. I sprinted toward the ball, hoping it would take a bounce in my direction. The ball bounced right into my hand. I caught the ball on the 20-yard line and retreated in an elliptical motion back to the 50-yard line. I went right, then left, then spun around and just before I could escape, the defender spoiled the magic return with an ankle tackle. I lost 19 yards on a punt return trying to be like Hester. My coach just looked at me and laughed. They played it a lot on the local news but no ESPN.
I went on to Vanderbilt and then drafted to the Chicago Bears were my man Devin Hester was playing. I was beyond excited, but couldn’t let him know how big of a fan I was. Every time I caught punts off the jugs at practice, I wanted to impress him. The same went for a punt return in the preseason.
I finally got my chance to show him what I could do during my first preseason game. We were playing the lowly Browns. I trotted on to the field. I thought, “I am taking this one to the house,” and I needed my men watching. The punter kicked the ball. In my head, I was thinking that I was going to make him proud. The ball went up in that Chicago wind and I had to track it down. I locked my hands together to catch it, but when I looked down to find it, the ball was not where I thought it should be. Shit, I just dropped the damn ball. The kicking team recovered it. I couldn’t believe I dropped a punt in front of one of my idols.
I recovered from the muffed punt to back him up my second year as a returner. That will always be my claim to fame — that I got to back up Devin Hester. It is a great feeling to have been in high school watching someone and then years later get to play alongside them. I wanted to be a fan and get autographs and pictures, but I had to play it cool because I’m in the league too.
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