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A wide receiver's legacy: Jeremiah Hunter’s journey from family to football

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NICK QUINLAN | SENIOR STAFF

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OCTOBER 31, 2022

Life is many things, but quiet is not one of them. Growing up, Jeremiah Hunter was surrounded by an orchestra: One composed not only of angelic voices, electric keys and drumming rhythms, but infused with a powerful love that inspires so much of who he is today.

Since he was young, the star Cal wide receiver has known that his passion lies with football — but his purpose lies with family. He is certainly a talented player, but it would be remiss to explain his love for his family as anything less than it truly is.

Hunter is truly a “family man.”

“I care about my family. I care about what they think about me, if I’m representing them and God in a good way, that’s all I really care about,” Hunter said. “I love my family.”

Not only does Hunter hold tremendous appreciation for this family, he will go to great lengths to protect them, something he’s done since he was a young boy. As his grandmother — whom he calls ‘G-Mama’ — says, Hunter is a “defender.” She recalls an incident at Disneyland, a memory that has now become one of her favorites.

“He was always a defender: as a little boy, as a young man. We went to Disneyland. … I was on a disabled scooter so I wouldn’t have to walk so far, and a young man crossed my path and accidentally I ran over his feet,” said his grandmother. “All of a sudden, we heard this sweet, young man named Jeremiah say, ‘Don’t you look at my grandmother like that!’ I guess he saw that man looking at me in a way that was unsuitable, and he let him know on certain terms you don’t do that.”

And while Hunter describes himself as a quiet, shy guy who keeps to himself off the field, his innate need to protect his family speaks volumes about his character. But his desire to protect doesn’t stop with his family.

His father, JR Hunter, remembers an experience in high school where the quiet leader in Hunter shone through.

“He’s always been one of the guys that went for the little guy. There was a kid sitting by himself and people would pick on him and whatnot. Jeremiah would go sit with him, and the other football players would sit around him,” reminisced his father.  “I’ve always told him, and Mom will say, that he is a leader, “Dad, I don’t talk like you, I don’t want to —,” and I’d say, you’re not a loud leader, you’re a quiet leader.”

However, Hunter was not always quiet. In fact, up until around third grade Hunter was loud as a lion. It affected everything from his actions to his schoolwork, and his family was at a loss for how to remedy it.

“Jeremiah was a bad little boy,” his grandmother said. “When I say bad, it was bad. He was inattentive in preschool, no daycare would take him.”

His mother, Elizabeth Hunter, echoed these sentiments.

“There were some struggles he was having academically, but we couldn’t get to those struggles because it was being clouded by his behavior. But he was still Jeremiah, he was still that same loving kid, but it was covered by frustration, by anger.”

Hunter laughed when the question of what he was like growing up came about: a reaction illustrating that he, too, knew that he was quite the handful as a child.

Like the orchestra that has always surrounded Hunter, a dichotomous symphony existed within him as well. The little boy with constant uproars of caucus behavior was somehow in harmony with the boy who protected his G-Mama at Disneyland and extended his hand to the lonely boy at lunch.

With light in her eyes and a smile so wide across her face, Hunter’s mother recalled yet another instance of Hunter’s true kindness.

“Remember his lunch money?” she rhetorically asked Hunter’s father. “Jeremiah would come home every day hungry. And we were like, why are you hungry, what’s going on? Finally, he tells us: ‘There’s this kid, he doesn’t have anything to eat.’ Jeremiah was giving this kid his lunch money every day so the kid could eat. We couldn’t even be mad.”

Disneyland, the boy sitting alone at lunch, the kid who didn’t have food to eat — these anecdotes only scratch the surface of the Hunter stories his family could tell, and only scratch the surface of showing the love and admiration his family holds so dearly for him.

Eventually, Hunter’s spell of bad behavior dissipated, but his lion heart remained. It was during this evolution that Hunter began his journey to becoming a Division I football player.

According to mom, football should be credited for his change in behavior: It was the passion that took Hunter by storm and changed his life.

“Football is really what saved Jeremiah because it gave him an outlet,” his mother said. “When football came into his life, he found that ‘Oh, this is what I like. This is what I want to do, this is my purpose.’ He turned a corner and you noticed his behavior change.”

Hunter also credited football for playing a role in shaping his behavior, but his version of the story went a bit differently. He cracked up, admitting it wasn’t football alone that inspired the change — it was the repercussions of acting out that did.

His parents, perhaps unknowingly, came up with the perfect solution: football as incentive. If Hunter didn’t behave well, he wouldn’t be allowed to play football during the weekend. This helped narrow his focus, according to Hunter. He loved football, with his whole lion heart, and his own mischievousness became the obstacle that stood in the way.

“I always knew I wanted to play college football,” Hunter said. “There was something about football that always drove me to it, I just love the sport so much. Pretty much since I came out (of) the womb I wanted to play football.”

But to become an athlete great enough to play in college, especially with aspirations to make it to the league, is an arduous journey. It’s one that requires hard work and commitment, but one Hunter was determined to pursue.

Quickly after he began playing football, Hunter became “a student of the game.” He was a running back at Teague Elementary School when he told his parents he wanted to pursue football, so his father tasked him with watching youtube videos of Barry Sanders to study the craft — in his opinion, the best running back.

This became a test of sorts: If he was serious about pursuing football, then he’d show his parents he was serious. Sure enough, Hunter watched “youtube clip, after youtube clip, after youtube clip” and continued to discipline himself. He was determined to show his parents just how serious he was.

“We’d be at the grocery store and he’s doing plays! Shuffling around, and I was like: ‘Jeremiah, walk.’ I can’t remember if he knows how to walk, really,” his father teased.

After years of commitment and hard work, Hunter grew into the powerhouse athlete he is today, carving the path to several D1 offers. He found his fit in Cal, committing eager to finally begin his collegiate experience.

To the dismay of Hunter, his family and the entire Bear program, his first season ended before it even began, after sustaining a shoulder injury during a Spring practice in 2020.

Hunter made the most of an incredibly difficult situation: Instead of languishing over his injury, he went to work. He dedicated himself to learning the playbook, picked the brains of his teammates and gained valuable new insight into the blue and gold’s behind the scenes.

“Me getting hurt overall helped me become a better player, and it made me look at life and at the playbook differently, as well,” Hunter said.

This new perspective certainly came in handy when Hunter returned for the 2021 season, unleashing the beast within him and finishing the season as a key component of the receiving core.

Hunter has only continued to grow since, breaking every single one of his career highs throughout this season. He’s currently Cal’s active career leader, and his explosiveness on the field is what makes his off-the-field personality all the more surprising.

“Incredible Hulk. He has the Bruce Banner — kind, gentle and all that — but you don’t like it when he’s angry. And when he’s angry is when he’s on the football field, and he’s angry when you start trying to poke at him, mess his teammates or mess with his family,” cautioned his father with the laughing agreement of his mother in the background.

“I told people in high school: you don’t want the hulk to come out,” he laughed. “When the hulk comes out, I would say that’s when he’s a totally different breed.”

Hunter reveals that this absolutely is the case, that his football self and everyday self are virtually different people. His calm, quiet self is able to completely transform when he hits the field, unleashing a part of his personality that seems to only be able to show itself for the game.

It’s not that one is more real than the other, though. They are two parts of a whole, two parts of one piece of himself that exist in different spaces. He becomes a different — not necessarily better, just different — version of himself when he’s on the field. His personality and outspokenness shines through when he’s on the gridiron.

“Football allows me to talk more. I wouldn’t say ‘vocal’, but you’ll hear me a lot more and see my personality a lot more than you’d see me outside of football,” Hunter explained. “Once I put my helmet on, I lock in, I turn into a different kind of person: It’s a different Jeremiah.”

And, speaking of a different Jeremiah, there’s another side of him, a hidden side that comes out almost exclusively in church.

“Most people don’t know this … I love playing the drums at my church with my uncle. It relaxes me, it’s fun to me. I grew up around music: my mom’s a singer, my whole family’s pretty much a singer, except my pops,” said Hunter.

Hunter has always been a passionate person. Before football, that manifested itself in the drums. He may have come out of the womb hot to play football, but his mom swears that even in the womb, he was playing the drums.

Constantly surrounded by church music from his mom’s belly, he joined the legacy of musicmakers, beating to the sound of the music with his feet.

“It’d be the craziest thing, and sure enough, when he was born, the moment he could hold a stick, he was going to town on the drums,” his mom said.

While he no longer plays the drums as frequently, it’ll forever hold a special place in his heart, and he’ll always jump at the opportunity to play at his church with his uncle.

The Hunter family’s church is the last piece of the orchestra Hunter is surrounded by, with its loud music, constant clapping, electrifying energy. It is the orchestra, in concert with a powerful love, that has surrounded him his entire life, and has made him the person he is today.

Contact Mia Wachtel at 

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OCTOBER 31, 2022