Believe it or not, Torii Hunter’s “passion” 25 years ago was football.
The speedy Hunter was hard to catch as an option quarterback for Pine Bluff High School in Arkansas. But most of the Divison I football programs that mailed him letters, including Arkansas and LSU, wanted him to play safety at the college level.
“I was always around the ball and could hit some guys and make some loud noises, before the targeting [rules] and everything, of course,” Hunter said on the phone two weeks ago. “I know I could have played in college. And I’m pretty sure if I put my mind to it, I could have given myself a really good chance of getting to the NFL.”
Minnesotans know how his story played out. Once Major League Baseball scouts told Hunter that he could be an MLB first-round pick, he focused on baseball his senior year. The Twins drafted him 20th overall in 1993 and his football career was done.
Nine Gold Gloves, five All-Star appearances and two Silver Slugger Awards later, it is safe to say that Hunter, now 41 and retired, picked the right sport for him.
Now, Hunter lives out his football dreams vicariously through his son, Monshadrick, who just wrapped up a fine four-year career at Arkansas State. His son, who goes by Money, hopes to catch the eyes of NFL scouts Friday at Arkansas State’s pro day.
A four-year starter for the Red Wolves, Money is the Sun Belt Conference’s all-time leader in career pick-sixes with four taken back to the house. In 2016, he was third on the team with 73 tackles, helping him garner first-team all-conference honors.
Not bad for a kid who focused only on football because a shoulder injury during his freshman year dashed his hopes of becoming a two-sport star in college.
Midway through his first fall on campus, in a game against Idaho, he injured his right shoulder, his throwing shoulder, while attempting to bring down a ball-carrier.
“When I got back to the sideline, it had gone dead on me,” Money said in a separate phone interview. “I played the rest of the game and went and got a MRI a couple of days later and they said I had torn my labrum and had a sprained AC joint.”
Money said he “put it in God’s hands,” praying for a full and speedy recovery.
“It didn’t come,” said Money, who like his famous father patrolled the outfield during his high school career. “So from there, I just gave up my baseball dreams.”
He now views it as a blessing in disguise because it forced him to focus on football.
Money returned to the football field for his sophomore season and started 11 games, one of which was the GoDaddy Bowl, when he recorded 11 tackles. In 2015, he tied for the team lead with three interceptions despite splitting snaps at safety. A full-time starter again last season, he was one of the Sun Belt’s top defensive backs.
Two of Torii Hunter’s other sons played college football, too. Torii Jr. was a wide receiver at Notre Dame before forgoing his final year of eligibility to pursue a baseball career. Darius played wideout, too, at Riverside City College in California.
Money said NFL scouts who have chatted with him are split about whether the 6-1, 194-pounder’s best position is free safety, strong safety or cornerback. Hoping to just get a chance to play in the pros, Money said he is willing to line up wherever any NFL team wants.
“I’ve got good instincts,” he said, scouting himself. “I love to make a play on the ball before I can make a tackle. And I want to get to the end zone. I’m a playmaker.”
He knows that he probably won’t hear his name called during the NFL draft April 27-29. Instead, he will likely have to earn a roster spot as an undrafted rookie.
His father, who is now a special assistant for the Twins, will be proud of Money no matter what happens. But after a recent day of spring training in Florida, Torii Hunter allowed himself to dream about what it would be like if the Vikings gave his kid a shot.
“Man, that would be too perfect,” Dad said with a laugh. “Me playing in Minnesota in the Twins organization for 16 years and now my son is playing with the Vikings? That’s home. Minnesota, that’s home. … It’s the place where I grew up and became a man, and I think it would be a great place for my son to be raised, as well.”