“My name is Danielle. But they alarm me Hunter.”
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This is how the video begins. He pronounces his name “Dun-eel.” If you emphasis it “Danielle” or “Daniel” he will actual you.
The chat “TRANSCENDENCE” appears.
“I’m blame myself to banned I didn’t alike apperceive were possible. The change of body, spirit and mind.”
He speaks boring and softly, as is his way. His articulation is sonorous, with a adumbration of an accent. As he transforms in the video, his articulation starts to complete a little like Darth Vader’s.
His arresting anatomy rests in some strange, collapsed chair, with cables all over the place. He’s acid a affectation that appears to be acceptance him to breathe. As he breathes, his chest moves up and down. His bark is accustomed by a brownish covering. He screams.
The video was attempt in November at Triglass Productions in Minneapolis and produced by Ryan Thielen, accessory of Vikings advanced receiver Adam Thielen. It took about six hours to film.
Hunter took the acting seriously. He was all in.
It debuted on the video lath at U.S. Bank Stadium during the Vikings’ 24-17 achievement over the Packers.
Near the end, Hunter removes the mask. He now is article altered than he acclimated to be.
“This is my transcendence.”
This week, the fourth-year arresting end out of LSU fabricated his aboriginal Pro Bowl. An NFC front-office man says Hunter is calmly the best amateur on the Minnesota defense, which is one of the bigger units in the league. He is angry with J.J. Watt and Von Miller for additional in the alliance in sacks (14.5) abaft alone Aaron Donald (16.5).
He may not be a domiciliary name like those players, but his arete is axiomatic in his canyon rush, in his anatomy and in his character.
Hunter celebrates some sacks with a aggressive arts bang to the side. He says he is blame bottomward the door, an adapted allegory for breadth he is in his career.
While he has entered our alertness with a agitated jolt, he has been architecture appear this for abounding years.
Hunter didn’t apperceive what football was until he saw his stepfather watching it on television aback he came to America from Jamaica at the age of eight. Anon thereafter, he was arena tag in his accommodation circuitous with his acquaintance Jermel Holmes. Alike admitting Holmes was on skates and Hunter was not, Hunter was affective faster. Holmes’ father, Jerry, who additionally was apprenticeship the Texans of the Houston Youth Football League, took notice.
“Son,” he told Hunter, “you should be arena football.”
Soon, he was. And he was arena it bigger than anybody else. He played every position added than quarterback, punter and kicker. At Morton Ranch Aerial School, he led his aggregation to a accompaniment championship as a junior. His mother still has three boxes abounding of belletrist from recruiters, postmarked from cities such as Tuscaloosa, Gainesville, Austin, Academy Station, Columbus and Blacksburg.
He admired that they played abundant aegis in Baton Rouge, so he went to LSU and started 23 amateur over three years. But he had alone 4.5 sacks and seven hurries, per CFBStats. Despite that, and afterwards tallying aloof 1.5 sacks as a junior, he absitively to abandon his chief division and access the NFL draft.
At the 2015 NFL Scouting Combine, Hunter abstinent 6’5″, 252 pounds. He ran the 40-yard birr in 4.57 seconds—fastest amid arresting ends.
The Vikings accept an analytics blueprint that derives a accumulative cast afterwards entering all of a player’s measurables. The best is a 10, and Hunter’s cast was a 10.
So he presented scouts with a dilemma: appraise him based on his tape, or appraise him based on his measurables?
“The absolute things anybody could see is he was long, athletic, a actual aqueous amateur on tape,” Vikings arresting band drillmaster Andre Patterson says. “He afflicted administering actual well. And … he played with a lot of backbone on the field.
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“The abrogating was he was actual hardly abutting to the quarterback. There wasn’t a array of pass-rush moves. He didn’t comedy with a lot of acquaintance balance, so if they ran beeline at him, his anxiety would be abutting calm and he didn’t accept the acquaintance antithesis to advice him get off his blocks.
“The amateur allotment of him said he is a first- to second-round player. The band didn’t say that at all.”
The Vikings absitively to booty a adventitious on him in the third annular with the 88th all-embracing pick. General administrator Rick Spielman says he anticipation Hunter had a adventitious to become a amateur by his third season.
On his aboriginal day on the job, Hunter sat abutting to Patterson in his office. They watched a band of every one of his canyon rushes at LSU and discussed every move Hunter fabricated and why.
Then they went to work.
Patterson’s aboriginal charge was for Hunter to bind his blitz angle. He capital him to cut afterpiece to the accouterment and get lower. He was demography a advanced bend at LSU and actuality run way accomplished the quarterback on best of his rushes. A tighter blitz bend would enhance his acceleration and accessible the aperture for added moves.
Next was to assignment on his ache move. The Vikings accept a abundant bag that hangs from a alternation agnate to what you’d acquisition in a battle gym. Every day afore convenance for a year, Hunter would booty 50 punches with his larboard duke and 50 with his right. The abstraction was to apprentice to ache with violence, and again be able to feel if the accouterment sets up for an central blitz or an alfresco rush.
Then they would assignment on a adverse move—the slap/arm over—in the accident that the accouterment got his easily on Hunter quickly.
He additionally would try to advance his ability move by jamming both easily on a blocker’s shoulders, abduction him one way and hasty the other.
Over time, Hunter became accomplished at aggregate he was alive on—even his sack celebration.
Hunter’s anatomy now looks like article from a Stan Lee dream.
The aftermost time he had his anatomy fat measured, it was 7 percent. His waist is 32 inches, and his belly looks like a large, angular buzz that has been deeply angry in cantankerous sections. With accoutrements that are 34½ inches long, he doesn’t accept to ask for annihilation to be anesthetized from the far end of the table. His deltoids are the admeasurement and appearance of fast-pitch softballs. Veins pop from him as if they are about to burst.
“He’s congenital crazy,” Vikings arresting accouterment Linval Joseph says. “He got all them veins. We alarm him Mr. Vein Man. And Gumby, because he’s still flexible, can move and do things added bodies can’t do.”
Among his added nicknames are Super Hero, Create A Amateur and Terminator.
His aboriginal appellation was accustomed to him anon afterwards he started arena football—Too Tall.
“They told me there was a Dallas Cowboy alleged Too Tall Jones and they could see he had the aforementioned affectionate of energy,” his stepfather, Cheikh Ndiaye, says. “He already had a anatomy that afar him from the added kids.”
His mother, Kimara Bonitto, says he was able-bodied alike as a baby. “He had that anatomy aback he was little,” she says.
James “Coop” Cooper, who trains Hunter at O Athletik in Houston, has credible a lot of impressive-looking athletes. But he hasn’t credible abounding like Hunter. “He’s like an activity figure,” he says. “You bethink those WWE dolls they had? He’s congenital like that—those big deltoids and the big old veins.”
To Tashawn Bower, Hunter’s assistant both at LSU and on the Vikings, there is article arbitrary about this.
“A lot of bodies accept to assignment three times as adamantine to attending as cut as him, and be as big as him,” the arresting end says. “And I see what this kid eats for banquet sometimes. One time I saw him bistro atom for dinner—Cinnamon Toast Crunch, I think—and I’m over actuality bistro greens. His genes are ridiculous.”
But Hunter’s anatomy has been added by assurance and dedication. The day afterwards he active a five-year $72 actor arrangement addendum in Minnesota in June, Hunter flew aback to Houston and went beeline from the airport to O Athletik for his circadian workout.
There, alive with NFL players such as Adrian Peterson and Trent Williams, Hunter is a leader, according to Cooper. He alike does acceleration assignment with advanced receivers, arresting backs and active backs, generally advancing in aboriginal in 300-meter sprints.
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When Hunter absolved into a weight allowance for the aboriginal time as a apprentice in aerial school, he was anon enthralled. He started spending added and added time there, and he generally didn’t leave until the lights were angry off.
The aboriginal time he approved to broad 225 pounds, he fell to his knees. These days, he squats 450 pounds 10 times—right afterwards acceleration and conditioning work, Cooper says.
And his anatomy accumulate growing. He advised 215 pounds advancing out of aerial school. At his aftermost academy football game, he advised 245 pounds. Now, he’s 260.
After practice, Hunter is alleged to breach bottomward the huddle.
“OK,” he says to his teammates. “On tree.”
“What? On tree?”
Laughter all around.
“On three,” he says with a abashed smile.
“His island words appear out from time to time,” Joseph says.
Hunter’s Jamaican roots are axiomatic in his tastes. He loves his mother’s rice and peas with oxtail, jerk chicken, ackee and saltfish and craven bottom soup. Arena in his headphones are Bob Marley, Damian Marley, Bounty Killer and Buju Banton.
But his activity in a developing country was far from idyllic. Bonitta had Hunter aback she was 18. Again her parents told her they were demography her and her four ancestors to alive in America. One catch: Her babyish couldn’t appear with them because he was not eligible.
Bonitta was absorbed on blockage in Jamaica until Hunter could accompany her, but her parents talked her out of it because they believed America was an access for anybody to accept a bigger life. Eventually, they assured her, Danielle would accompany her.
So they larboard for New York City aback Hunter was one-and-a-half, and he backward in St. Catherine with relatives. Bonitta furthered her apprenticeship and formed two jobs so she could accelerate a account check. She admired her trips aback two or three times a year. She would accompany 80 to 100 pounds of clothes, shoes and toys in her suitcases—the best the airline allowed—for her son. Her mother additionally beatific barrels abounding with gifts.
“I buy actual nice being for him,” Bonitta says. “I accelerate him Nautica. My admired cast for him at that time was Nautica, because I admired seeing him in sailor clothes. He was attractive actual nice in that affectionate of clothing.”
But aback she visited him, she begin him acid the aforementioned things over and over again—shabby apparel that she had not purchased.
“Where are the things I beatific you?” she asked him.
“I don’t know. I don’t accept anything,” he would say.
When she absolved bottomward Jamaican roads, bodies told her they heard she was not accouterment for her son. It wasn’t true, but she didn’t appetite to accomplish after-effects because she was anxious about her son’s welfare.
Hunter remembers a boondocks that had accurate everywhere. He absolved about barefoot, and the cheers of his anxiety became so calloused he could footfall on a bedrock and not flinch. That’s aloof how it was.
“When he was in Jamaica, the activity wasn’t easy,” his mother says, still activity the emotion. “It was actual hard. As a child, he wouldn’t accept some things. I absolutely capital to get him here. It was not a acceptable situation.”
Four years afterwards Bonitta left, Hunter confused in with his grandmother’s brother’s son and his wife, and his activity improved. “When I go there, I could see he was cheerful, he was playing,” she says. “They took acceptable affliction of him. I wasn’t afraid anymore. I wasn’t arrant like I acclimated to before.”
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When he was eight, Hunter was assuredly accustomed to appear to America. He still remembers deplaning the Air Jamaica flight at LaGuardia Airport in New York on Feb. 3, 2003 with advanced eyes. “It was my aboriginal time seeing white people,” he says. “I had alone credible them on TV. So it was like, ‘Wow! There’s a white person!'”
The ancestors confused to Houston anon afterwards Hunter’s accession in the states. There, his mother captivated him to a aerial standard, activity so far as aggressive to accelerate him aback to Jamaica if he didn’t accomplish expectations. “I capital him to accept A-plus, not aloof A,” says Bonitta, who became an accountant and now is alive on a doctorate in administering and business administration. “I appetite him to be somebody.”
It was credible that Hunter capital to be somebody, too.
“I came actuality and saw bodies that have,” he says. “When I was bottomward there, I saw what it was like to not have. I apperceive the difference.”
He became the blazon of amateur who sits in the advanced row, writes addendum through affairs (he has eight abounding acknowledged pads of tips Patterson has accustomed him), saves old argument letters from his coaches and sometimes studies convenance blur afore acid the band off his ankles.
In the bounce of 2015, Patterson catholic to the Arizona Accompaniment pro day. While he was watching drills, he acquainted a tap on his shoulder. It was Hunter. He had been training in the breadth and capital to say hello. They talked for added than an hour.
“I begin out he was a different being with a able admiration to apprentice and appetite to be great,” Patterson says. “I knew he was activity to do whatever was asked of him. Aback I left, I said, ‘I’ve got to accept this kid.'”
One of the affidavit the Vikings were able to get accomplished Hunter’s abridgement of assembly at LSU was that their cerebral tests showed he had solid football character, was a adamantine worker, was accommodating to booty apprenticeship and had a aerial akin of commitment, according to Spielman.
Hunter isn’t like best NFL stars. He has no tattoos and no piercings, and he doesn’t abrasion jewelry. He hasn’t fabricated abounding bright purchases, admitting he does own two beef cars—a Dodge Challenger Hellcat and a Dodge Challenger Demon. He’s humble. He doesn’t allocution trash. Mostly, he listens and watches.
“I don’t say much,” he says. “I’m actual observant. I see things. Bodies anticipate I don’t see it, but I do. It’s aloof how I am. Growing up in Jamaica, it’s rubbed off on me through the years.”
In the anniversary of convenance afore the Vikings’ fourth bold of Hunter’s amateur season, he was accustomed a appropriate assignment: Imitate Broncos All-Pro pass-rusher Von Miller on the advance team. That’s aback his coaches knew.
“He put a appearance on in practice,” Patterson says. “I mean, it was unreal. It was amazing. Inside, alfresco moves, circuit moves. He did being I didn’t alike apperceive he could do.”
Hunter played 36.5 percent of the snaps that division and had six sacks. The abutting year, he played 58.0 percent of the snaps and had 12.5 sacks. His sacks alone to 7.0 in 2017, but he’s up to a career aerial of 14.5 this season and is one of alone six players aback sacks accept been recorded with 40 sacks afore the age of 25.
He’s about added than sacks, though. He’s boxy adjoin the run, and he makes plays all over the field.
“He chases bottomward active backs who run 4.4s,” Bower says. “He’s casual linebackers and sometimes our DBs. His accomplishment and relentlessness to the brawl is ridiculous.”
Earlier this season, Todd Gurley of the Los Angeles Rams bent a awning canyon and took off bottomward the larboard sideline. Hunter somehow fabricated up a 10-yard gap and bankrupt the ambit from the far assortment to a few yards from the sideline. He hit Gurley and slowed him bottomward so Mike Hughes could accouterment him afterwards a 56-yard gain.
He’s appreciative of that play.
“I’m not cerebration as abundant this year,” he says. “I acclimated to anticipate a lot, aggravating to alive up to expectations. That affectionate of slowed me down. Now it’s added go out there and play, don’t anguish about what bodies are saying. You accept to aloof [block] it all out.”
But Hunter hasn’t hit his beam yet.
“He’s still dabbling with it,” says Joseph, who has been a mentor. “He’s 24 years old. Give him a brace of years. Aback he gets his developed man strength, I absolutely feel like he’s activity to appearance things he’s not assuming now.”
Patterson has spent 15 years in the NFL and accomplished anteroom of famers John Randle and Chris Doleman. He told Hunter he has a adventitious to be his abutting Anteroom of Famer.
In added words, this could be a transcendence.
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Dan Pompei covers the NFL for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter: @danpompei.
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