Brett Hundley has been here before, as a five-star recruit from Chandler High School in Arizona, hailed as UCLA’s savior.
“It was pretty insane,” Hundley told the Daily Bruin five years ago. “There was one picture of me on the Internet throwing a football in clouds with doves around me. Then when I got to school, everyone was like, “There’s the savior, there’s the savior.’ ”
Beginning Sunday, Brett Hundley Jr. will be asked by the good people of Titletown, USA, spoiled as they have been by Brett Favre and Aaron Rodgers, to be the savior of a Green Bay Packers’ season — which no one now believes will end with a Lombardi Trophy raised to the heavens.
“I know what he has inside, and I know how he prepares, and I know how important it is to him,” Brett Hundley Sr. told Serby Says by phone. “I just know his makeup. He’s going to do everything he can to make sure that this opportunity — not just for him personally, but for the Green Bay Packer fan base and just the franchise — that hey, the greatest current player is hurt, but that’s not the end of the world. ‘I’m gonna do my best.’ And I believe Brett’s going to have a good game this weekend.”
During one of his daily 4 a.m. Phoenix runs on Monday, the magnitude of this moment for Brett Hundley Jr. hit Brett Hundley Sr.
“I reflect all the way back to when he got his first jockstrap,” Senior said. “When he was playing flag football, he was 5 years old, you know? And to see him and to see that entire journey and see where he’s at right now, that’s something that’s really, really special.”
Senior recalls when Junior’s lifelong NFL dream exploded. Junior was 13 when he saw idol, Donovan McNabb, up-close and personal.
“Donovan and a bunch of NFL players were at Chandler High School working out on the field,” Senior said. “And Brett was just mesmerized by that. And next thing I know, it was his screensaver on his computer, a picture of Donovan McNabb, and it stayed that way all the way through high school.”
Giants running back Paul Perkins ran track with Junior, and played with him at Chandler.
“I remember Brett hurdled a guy, standing straight up one time, and it was just amazing,” Perkins said.
Jim Ewan, the Chandler head coach at the time, recalled the same play.
“He was scrambling and he’s coming down our sideline, corner’s coming up to tackle him hard, he hurdled the kid, landed in perfect stride and took it for a touchdown,” Ewan said. “I have never seen him rattled.”
Junior squatted 225 pounds 44 times as a junior. He was the strongest kid in the Chandler program.
“Broken plays were when he was at his best,” Ewan said. “When things went wrong, he would just improvise. He would turn chickens—t into chicken salad.”
Ewan’s wife was Junior’s English teacher.
“He led by example,” Ewan said. “Kind of a quiet kid, but when he needed to speak up he would speak up. If he needed to talk to somebody, he would pull him aside and talk to him. He just had everybody’s respect. He didn’t just hang out with football kids and other athletes or the so-called cool kids and stuff, he talked to everybody. Everybody liked him. If he’d have run for student-body president, he probably would have been elected.”
Rick Neuheusel recruited Junior to UCLA.
“Brett has always been a little mature for his age,” Senior said. “I think he understood the expectations, but he kept things in perspective. He knew that he could only do what he could do, and he was gonna give it his best. I think that he embraced that, but he also realized how much work he had to put in to achieve that. Not to be the savior, but to be one of the pieces of the turnaround.”
Perkins followed Junior to UCLA.
Brett Hundley played at UCLA.AP
“Just us talking in the backfield, talking about who’s gonna score first … just having friendly competition,” Perkins said.
Asked what Junior was like in the huddle, Perkins said, “He’s calm. He’s everything a quarterback would need to be.”
From the stands, Senior, who missed just two of his son’s games at UCLA, could live vicariously through him. Senior was a running back at Arizona, idolized Tony Dorsey growing up in Denver, but never got to realize his NFL dream.
“Brett is probably one of the most laid-back individuals off the field,” Senior said. “But I always told him, there’s something about when he steps onto that field, it’s game time. It just seems he goes through a metamorphosis. He always stays calm, but it’s an aggressive calm. I always told him I love watching him play. Just to see him really focus in and zero in on what needs to happen during that game. And time and time again he was able to do it.”
Junior was instrumental in helping to bring back UCLA — three bowl games, albeit no Rose Bowl.
“If he needs to stick in the pocket, he’ll do that, if he needs to break a run, he’ll do that,” Senior said. “I always said when he takes off running he turns into a running back. He has a demeanor and a confidence about himself when he’s on the field that just makes him unique in his own way.”
But the NFL scouts saw a 6-foot-3, 226-pound quarterback who didn’t belong in the Jameis Winston-Marcus Mariota conversation. Some saw Junior having a problem reading defenses. He slipped to the fifth round before the Packers, who were thrilled when Rodgers fell in their laps with the 24th overall pick in 2005, ended the slide.
“That was tough,” Senior said. “That was the furthest thing from all of our minds at the time. No one really had answers for him, but the good thing about Brett is as he dropped, his determination and his focus strengthened. Because Brett had a little chip on his shoulder at this stage, and rightly so. Where a lot of people may have cried over spilled milk, and went into a funk, I think that just added more fuel to his fire. And then when he got drafted by the Packers, I think we all just said, ‘Wow, this presents one of the best opportunities and best scenarios that anyone could ask for.’ ”
Junior had thrown 10 passes in his first two NFL seasons before. Then Rodgers broke his collarbone, and Junior took over in what became a 23-10 loss to the Vikings, — going 19-for-34 with a touchdown and three interceptions. Junior will make his first start at Lambeau Field on Sunday against the surging Saints.
“I think he’s gonna do great,” Perkins said. “He’s been waiting for this moment, he’s been preparing for this moment.”
Brett HundleyGetty Images
Mike McCarthy grew testy answering questions about the team possibly looking into signing Colin Kaepernick, but he stated his firm belief in Hundley.
“I know people are probably thinking he’s gonna be in over his head,” Ewan said. “If it’s the Brett Hundley I know, he’ll respond to the challenge. He’ll put the time in to learn what he has to learn. Brett’ll give ’em a chance to be competitive. He’ll do his part. That I know.”
Senior will not be there because he committed back in August to cook for his 30-year-old daughter’s birthday party Saturday night in Phoenix.
“Three days a week they would get up about 5 in the morning and they would jog between one and three miles before school,” Ewan said. “All year long they would jog together. They have a very close, unique relationship, almost more like older brother and younger brother than the father and son.”
Senior vows to make the rest of Junior’s games.
“People are rooting for him,” Senior said. “We’re getting so many messages from people that we don’t even know. He’s not a cocky kid. He’s a very humble kid. He’s put in his work. He strives to be his best at whatever he does. He doesn’t cause any problems, he’s never been in trouble. He’s a good, good individual.”
Senior has been texting Junior every morning at 4 Arizona time.
“And it’s just my way of telling him to punch the clock,” Senior said. “ ‘Make sure you stay focused and just do your thing.’ ”
And Sunday’s text?
“That text,” Senior said, “is gonna say, ‘Handle your business.’ And that’s generally what I tell him right before just about every game he’s been in.”