Former Bears star Devin Hester on Thursday was selected as one of 15 modern-era finalists for the Pro Football Hall of Fame's Class of 2022.
"I'm just honored and blessed to make it to this round," Hester said on an NFL Network show announcing the finalists. "I thank God for everything that He's done in my life, and just hopefully we can get this done."
Hester played eight of his 11 NFL seasons with the Bears. The most prolific return specialist in league history, he holds NFL records with 19 kick-return touchdowns, 14 punt-return TDs and 20 return touchdowns, which includes punts, kickoffs, missed field goals, fumbles and interceptions.
Selected by the Bears in the second round of the 2006 draft out of Miami, Hester was voted to three Pro Bowls, won 13 special teams player of the week awards and was named to the NFL's All-Decade Team for the 2000s.
The Florida native joined the Bears after returning six kicks for touchdowns—four punts and two kickoffs—in three seasons at the University of Miami.
Hester said Thursday on NFL Network that when he entered the league, he had heard talk that it would be "pretty much impossible to do the things that I did in college in the NFL." It didn't take him long to disprove that theory, returning a punt 84 yards for a touchdown in his first pro game, helping the Bears beat the Packers 26-0 in the 2006 season opener in Green Bay.
"Once I got to the league, in my first game I took a punt back to the house," Hester said. "I was like, 'Wow, I can contribute and carry on from college to the NFL and make a big impact on the return game.'"
Hester set an NFL single-season record with five kick return touchdowns as a rookie in 2006 and then eclipsed the mark with six TDs in 2007.
In addition to his punt-return TD against the Packers, as a rookie, Hester lifted the Bears to a stunning 24-23 comeback victory over the Cardinals with a late 83-yard punt return TD; and set a single-game franchise record with 225 kickoff return yards in a win over the Rams, including TDs of 94 and 96 yards.
Hester then capped his remarkable rookie season by becoming the first player in NFL history to return the opening kickoff of a Super Bowl for a touchdown, dashing 92 yards in an eventual 29-17 loss to the Colts.
In 2007, Hester returned four punts and two kickoffs for touchdowns. In a 37-34 overtime win over the Broncos, he scored TDs on a 75-yard punt return and 88-yard kickoff return.
Hester returned three punts for scores in 2010, two punts and one kickoff for TDs in 2011 and one punt for a touchdown in 2013. He remains the Bears' all-time leader in punt return yards (3,241), kickoff return yards (5,504), total kick return yards (8,745), punt returns (264) and kickoff returns (222).
Hester told NFL Network that the most influential coach he had in the league was Dave Toub, who served as Bears special teams coordinator during Hester's first seven NFL seasons from 2006-12.
"This guy had more faith in me than I had in myself," Hester said. "He really made me feel like I was unstoppable, I was untouchable, that I was more of a Superman. When I realized and understood what he was getting to and what my ability was to play in the league and I was capable of doing, then that's when it clicked. He really, really instilled into me that I could change the game as a returner."
Hester is among three finalists in their first year of eligibility; the other two are receiver Andre Johnson and linebacker/defensive end DeMarcus Ware. The remaining 12 finalists are defensive end Jared Allen; tackles Willie Anderson and Tony Boselli; cornerback/safety Ronde Barber; safety LeRoy Butler; receivers Torry Holt and Reggie Wayne; linebackers Sam Mills, Zach Thomas and Patrick Willis; and defensive linemen Richard Seymour and Bryant Young.
The finalists were determined by a vote of the Hall of Fame's Selection Committee from a list of 123 nominees named in September that was trimmed to 26 semifinalists Nov. 24.
The Selection Committee will reduce the list to 10 and then to five. Each of the remaining five will be voted on, with an 80 percent "yes" vote required for enshrinement. In addition to the modern-era finalists will be senior finalist Cliff Branch, contributor finalist Art McNally and coach finalist Dick Vermeil.
The Hall of Fame's Class of 2022 will be revealed during a live airing of NFL Honors at 8 p.m. (CT) Thursday, Feb. 10, three days before the Super Bowl.
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