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Road to Canton: How Devin Hester became a Bear

In Part 1 of ChicagoBears.com's 5-part series on Devin Hester ahead of his Hall of Fame induction in August, senior writer Larry Mayer chronicles how the University of Miami star was selected by the Bears with the 57th pick in the 2006 NFL Draft. This feature also includes exclusive video footage from inside the draft room at Halas Hall where then-general manager Jerry Angelo, scouts and others discuss the decision to draft Hester.



The Bears entered the 2006 NFL Draft intending to select Devin Hester in the second round, but another team nearly ruined that plan.

The Titans apparently called the University of Miami star and told him that they were about to draft him at No. 45. But Tennessee pivoted at the last minute and instead chose USC running back LenDale White.

Twelve slots later, the Bears picked the future Hall of Famer.

Greg Gabriel, then the team's director of college scouting, phoned Hester to deliver the news.

"I called Devin and said, 'Hi Devin, it's Greg Gabriel with the Bears. We're about to make you a Chicago Bear with our next pick,'" Gabriel told ChicagoBears.com. "Devin goes, 'For real?' And I said, 'Yeah, why wouldn't it be for real?' He said, 'Tennessee called me. They said they were going to take me and then they didn't do it.'"

At Miami, Hester was a dynamic return specialist who possessed rare speed and game-breaking ability. The Florida native also played running back, receiver, cornerback and nickel back during his three seasons with the Hurricanes but never really established himself at one position.

"He vacillated back and forth and really never defined himself as either a receiver or a corner," recalled then-Bears general manager Jerry Angelo. "He was a special-teams guy with a tremendous amount of talent that you felt like could grow into either position. But there was a learning curve and during that learning curve he'd be a good special-teams player. That was our methodology when we drafted him."

In the video clip below, Angelo discusses whether to draft Hester with Gabriel and area scouts Mark Sadowski, Jeff Shiver and Chris Ballard.

The Bears assigned Hester a second-round grade and were confident that he'd be available at No. 57 because players without defined positions were rarely drafted before the third round. One reason the Bears were so fixated on picking Hester as high as they did is that they believed strongly in the importance of special teams.

"He was a wild card and wild cards usually start coming off the board in the third round," Angelo said. "That's when you take chances on great athletes that aren't defined. Second round, that's a little rich. But we were committed because he fit our philosophy, special teams. We knew he would amp the special teams up, never thinking he'd be what he was, but he'd amp it up and as he's doing that, we would find a position for him and go from there. We felt that he had a good floor."

“The thing that sticks out the most now is how a guy from Florida comes to Chicago and it’s like he was raised in the cold weather. He never dropped any balls in the cold. He had unbelievable hands.” Former Bears coach Lovie Smith

Angelo was a bit surprised that Hester declared for the draft following his true junior year in college.

"We thought he would stay in, take another year at corner, define himself there and then come out," Angelo said. "He was so talented that he knew he was going to go fairly [high in the draft], but he was still an enigma. Everybody loved the talent, but what was he going to do [in terms of a regular position]?"

Bears did deep dive on Hester

Sadowski, who was the Bears' southeast area scout at the time, first noticed Hester in 2003 when he returned a kickoff 98 yards for a touchdown against Florida as a true freshman. A year later, Sadowski was in attendance when Hester brought back a kickoff 105 yards for a TD versus North Carolina State.

"It was the fastest thing I ever saw," Sadowski said. "That was the point when I was like, 'This dude is a dude. I've got to get to know him.'"

Sadowski did just that, familiarizing himself with Hester as a player and a person. The Bears scout spoke to those who spent the most time with him, including his mother, brothers, position coach and academic advisors, among others.

One person whose opinion Sadowski truly valued was Miami head strength and conditioning coach Andreu Swasey, who raved about Hester's work ethic.

Said Sadowski: "He told me: 'Devin is a good kid. He doesn't even know how good he can be. He comes in and works his ass off. He's not like some of these other kids around here who have a lot of bark and talk, but he's got some bite to him.'"

Hester continued to produce highlight-reel plays at Miami. The best one may have been a 70-yard punt return touchdown in 2005 against Duke that was nullified by a penalty but still must be seen to be believed.

"He made like the whole frickin' team miss, I mean doing figure eights and everything else," Gabriel said. "When you saw that, it was like holy [crap]! It was like his eyes go all the way around his head. I asked him once, 'How do you do that?' He goes, 'When I've got the ball in my hand, everything else is in slow motion.' That's a great way of describing it."

Hester returned four punts and two kickoffs for touchdowns at Miami.

"We watched him," Angelo said. "You put on television, you put on a game, he jumped out at you. You saw a great athlete."

The Bears were already high on Hester, but a private workout they conducted in Miami convinced them to target him in the draft. Then-coach Lovie Smith, accompanied by his youngest son, Miles, met with and put Hester and Miami cornerback Kelly Jennings through defensive back drills.

Smith salivated over Hester's speed, quickness and athletic ability and was just as impressed with him as a person.

"When I worked him out and met him, [I] thought, 'Who has ever met Devin Hester that hasn't fallen in love with him?'" Smith said.

Smith's only concern was that Hester had spent his entire life in the south and wasn't sure he'd be able to catch footballs in the cold. But that never became an issue during Hester's illustrious career in Chicago.

"The thing that sticks out the most now is how a guy from Florida comes to Chicago and it's like he was raised in the cold weather," Smith said. "He never dropped any balls in the cold. He had unbelievable hands."

“He was the guy we wanted in the draft. There were no ifs, ands or buts. That draft was about getting Devin Hester.” Former Bears director of college scouting Greg Gabriel


Hester was driven to be great

Another key aspect of the private workout was a meeting Angelo had with Swasey.

"I was really big on guys having passion and work ethic," Angelo said. "And Swasey told me something about Devin that stuck. He said, 'Jerry, he's the first guy here. He's in here doing whatever I ask him to do. He's asking questions. He wants to know this; he wants to know that about training, and he goes out on the field and takes the same attitude. He wants to be a great player.'

"I always said to my scouts—and I had great scouts in Chicago—if you can only get one question answered, it's this: 'Does the player want to be great?' And, unequivocally, [Sadowski] said yes. But then we heard it again from Swasey, who I trusted. This guy wasn't trying to promote Devin. He was just telling us how the kid was wired."

Swasey's endorsement was the final box Angelo needed to check to draft Hester, though if Sadowski wasn't on board, the Bears GM would not have overruled him.

"Area scouts were gold bars to me," Angelo said. "If a scout disagreed with me, I wanted to know why. But Mark was steadfast, and if our scouts would not budge on their report, I deferred to them because they know the players best. They did the bulk of the work. They know the character of the kid, they talk to the people in the building, they've seen them the most. For me to trump them would be ego. That doesn't work."

Sadowski appreciated that Angelo and Smith always listened intently to area scouts and valued their opinions. Sadowski recalled Smith approaching him in the weight room at Halas Hall before the 2006 draft.

"He said, 'You really like this Hester guy, right?'" Sadowski said. "I said, 'Coach, I've done a lot of work on him. There's something special to him. I can't pinpoint what it is. I don't know what he's going to run the 40 in. But I really don't care because he's the fastest guy I've ever seen with the ball in his hands.'

"I knew deep down that he was special. I'd seen him play so many times live in all those different spots, and he was a guy that I just wanted to have on my damn team."

When Hester officially became part of the team, there was jubilation at Halas Hall.

"He was the guy we wanted in the draft," Gabriel said. "There were no ifs, ands or buts. That draft was about getting Devin Hester. The wind would have come out of our sails if we didn't get him. He was a difference maker."

Take a look back at the Bears career of legendary return specialist and new Pro Football Hall of Famer Devin Hester, who recorded 34 touchdowns during his eight seasons in Chicago.

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