In June 2018, the Golden State Warriors and the Cleveland Cavaliers met in the finals for the last time in their four-year streak. Kevin Durant and the Warriors swept LeBron James’ Cavaliers to make it three NBA titles for Golden State in four seasons.
Something special must have been in the foggy Bay Area air early that summer. It was around that time that a young Jeremiah Hunter, a junior wide receiver at Central High School in Fresno, decided to make an impromptu stop at Cal before heading to a football camp in Folsom the next day. Hunter and his parents, JR and Elizabeth Hunter, invited a group of family members to meet them in Berkeley for the visit.
“The coaches, Jeremiah and all of us were into the NBA Finals,” Hunter’s father said. “We were watching that in the media room, and what was supposed to be a 5-to-10-minute visit turned into a three-to-four, almost five-hour visit. We lost track of time. It was like hanging out with family.”
After spending the day in Berkeley, the Hunters finally made their way to their hotel room and settled in for the night. The next morning, Hunter sheepishly made his way to his parents’ room to make a confession.
“We were getting ready to go to camp, and Jeremiah came to our room saying, ‘Hey, family, I should have committed last night,’ ” his father said. “We said, ‘OK, then commit!’ ”
It’s safe to say that speaking up for himself is not one of Hunter’s strong suits. The tall stud receiver who had more than 3,200 yards and scored 50 touchdowns in high school does not assert himself off the field quite as he does on the gridiron. He is bashful and said the hardest part about coming to college has been answering questions and providing his thoughts in interviews. Needless to say, telling his family and Cal’s coaches about his commitment could not have been easy.
It may be because above all else, he is, in the words of his mother, a “people pleaser.” Hunter’s grandmother, whom he calls his “G-Mama,” sees him as a “person of service.” Any way you put it, Hunter is consistently willing to put his teammates and loved ones before himself.
But what was Hunter like as a little kid?
While his father roared with laughter in the background, Hunter’s mother answered the question.
“If you ask Jeremiah, he’ll tell you he was bad,” his mother said. “Jeremiah had some struggles. You know, people say there are the ‘terrible twos’ and ‘fours’ and ‘fives.’ ”
“And ‘sixes’ and ‘sevens,’ ” Hunter’s father added facetiously.
Hunter, a self-described “doer,” was a rambunctious kid with more energy than he knew what to do with and, consequently, had some trouble behaving in school. Unlike today, he had no problem with speaking his mind and doing whatever he felt like doing.
Sure enough, Hunter confessed to being a handful as a child without being prompted.
“I was bad,” he said with a laugh. “I was getting kicked out of day cares and things like that. I was just making a fuss of everything. But I’m more mature now, and I’m just happy that I’m less pressure on (my parents). They get to relax now and just see me doing good.”
His parents soon learned that yelling at Hunter was not an effective way to discipline him. As someone who has always cared deeply about the opinions of his loved ones, he could not separate the words from the tone in which they were said and took scoldings to heart. Today, he said, he makes a conscious effort to hear what his coaches are saying rather than how they say it. As his own worst critic, Hunter has learned to accept criticism rather than internalize it as he did as a little kid.
It became apparent that, in tandem with strict discipline on the part of his parents and G-Mama, what Hunter really needed was an outlet for his energy. It was in the second grade at Teague Elementary School in Fresno that the future star found that outlet on the football field playing as his team’s running back.
“Kids sometimes struggle to express themselves,” his mother said. “Football gave him the opportunity to feel special, to feel a part of a team, to be able to get some of that energy out and to express himself.”
But while football was an effective medium through which Hunter could release his energy, school was to come before football, something that his grandmother, a retired administrator at Fresno City College, made very clear.
“Jeremiah had to apply himself in school. If he didn’t do that, everything else was on the side,” his grandmother said. “First of all was his service to God and to his community. But secondly, if you’re not doing well in school, you cannot play sports.”
When he was in the third grade, the Hunters pulled their son out of football. His third grade year was dedicated to learning how to redirect his seemingly endless supply of energy and drive toward paying attention in class.
It was during his hiatus from football that Hunter’s mother first remembers seeing him express a true passion for football, if not for winning as a part of a team. The then-fourth-grader watched from the sidelines as his elementary school team lost in the championship game, and he was heartbroken.
“I remember Jeremiah just crying at the end of the game,” his mother said. “He was like, ‘Mom, I’m going to join the team next year, and we’re going to win.’ I mean, he cried like he was on the field that day. Sure enough, though, the very next year, they got the championship. He was very determined. That was his goal.”
As his grandmother pointed out, football became the avenue through which Hunter channeled his previously aimless determination. He just needed strong guidance from his family.
“He was always a determined little boy,” his grandmother said. “Football seemed to be his destination in life in terms of where he is now, and he gratefully and thankfully had parents who saw the potential in him.”
His doggedness as a child may have been misguided. But as a college athlete today, he recognizes how rewarding it is to win with a team. His favorite aspect of football, he said, is making plays for his teammates.
In short, football is where Hunter found a place to focus his efforts and a space for serving others. No wonder he likes it so much.
Now a sophomore, Hunter has become a familiar face in Cal’s wide receiver rotation. The 6’2” receiver has the second-most receiving yards on the team entering this week’s homecoming game against Washington State and would have almost certainly played as a freshman if it hadn’t been for a shoulder injury that sidelined him for the fall 2020 season.
He’s an accomplished football player, but he won’t let you forget just how much love and support he has had along the way from his family. He describes himself as a “family-oriented” person, and it’s true — he refuses to talk about himself without pointing out the family members who have supported him and realized his potential.
He turns to his G-Mama for sage advice and to his younger sister for a laugh. And he thanks his parents for helping him through his boisterous grade school years and for supporting him in whatever he wanted to do.
“I appreciate my wife and myself in that regard. We never forced him to do anything that he didn’t want to do,” Hunter’s father said. “But I think if we weren’t there to kind of guide him, he might have sold himself short. So thank God for Cal showing interest and speaking to him as a person and encouraging him and saying, ‘We love what you’re doing.’ It was nice for somebody other than family to recognize his work.”
Hunter will be the first to tell you that it takes a village to raise a child, especially one with so much drive and, at times, self-doubt. For someone who cares so deeply about the people in his life — his teammates, his family members and his close friends — all he really needed was for others to express just how deeply they care about him.
As his G-Mama says, Jeremiah Hunter is a “person of service.” But those who are chosen to serve others need encouragement too. With his family and a supportive team behind him, there’s no limit to his potential.
Who knows? He may just become the next Keenan Allen.
“Hopefully I can be up there with Keenan and them,” Hunter said with a grin. “But I’m just trying to help the team win, and hopefully I can do my part. That’s all I try to do, just do my part to help the team win.”
William Cooke covers football. Contact him at email@example.com.