Usain Bolt, the great sprinter from Jamaica, bragged about eating McDonald’s and partying during the London Olympics, while re-establishing himself as the world’s fastest human.
Vikings defensive end Danielle Hunter grew up in Jamaica. He, like Bolt, is improbably tall, fast and muscular. He describes Jamaica as an ideal training ground for a young athlete. Because if you’re not fast, you might get eaten.
“I was a wild child,” Hunter said. “We would do some things, sometimes. We would jump off rooftops. I remember there was this one time we were rolling down this hill and there was an alligator pond at the bottom.
“We’d try to see who would stop before they rolled into the water. I remember there was this one time when I was rolling down and I stopped at the last second and I heard something swimming toward the land. I got up as quick as I could and ran back up the hill.”
Hunter played cricket and soccer. He treated the island as a giant jungle gym set in a real jungle. He and his friends would swim in drainage ditches — “We called them gutters” — filled with clean fresh water.
“It was kind of fun,” he said. “Us kids, we were free to roam the streets. We would go so far away from home, explore the island. It’s all about going outside and playing over there.”
Hunter moved to Texas when he was 8, to rejoin his parents. In high school, he was chasing his friend, the son of a football coach. The friend was on skates. Hunter was not. Hunter ran him down.
The coach looked up from his newspaper and told Hunter he was now a football player.
Hunter excelled at Katy High, a football powerhouse near Houston. He played for three years at LSU, putting up unspectacular statistics.
In April, the Vikings chose Hunter in the third round. On Oct. 29, he turned 21. Last Sunday, Hunter helped an injury-ravaged defensive line dominate the Chicago Bears in a 38-17 victory. Hunter produced 1.5 sacks and five tackles.
He has five sacks this season, more than his entire college career. He, like linebacker Anthony Barr, is a rising defensive player the Vikings drafted more because of athletic upside than past production. He, like Barr, could become a standout.
“It’s been pretty good so far,” Hunter said. “We’ve got a lot of helpful guys on the team coaching me up.”
Hunter is listed at 6-5 and 252 pounds. He is example No. 5,666,259 why Americans overrate youth sports as training grounds for professional athletes.
Hunter had vaguely heard of football as a child, but didn’t know what it was. He had little interest in the game until a coach recruited him. A lifetime of running and swimming and a family tree with strong branches gave Hunter the fast-twitch muscles and frame that would help him become a pro.
If you think teaching your kid a three-point stance at age 5 is going to get him to the NFL, you are probably wrong. You’d be better off sending the kid to an island and telling him to swim and sprint away from alligators every day.
“It was a pretty exciting childhood,” Hunter said.
Hunter hasn’t returned to Jamaica since he left 13 years ago. He thinks someday he’ll go back for a vacation. Most likely, he’ll return as the star of a sport the island cares little about.
“What you see on the island is kids running everywhere,” Hunter said. “We were free to roam the streets.”