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Friday, July 11, 2008
Prep receiver gets thrill of catching Favre's fastballs

By Wright Thompson
ESPN.com

Did you hear about the teenagers who ran routes for Brett Favre on Friday?

Well, one of them was Kewon Hunter, a senior receiver at Oak Grove High School in Hattiesburg, Miss. And a few hours after the workout ended, he was still oohing and aahing.

"He was just standing in one spot today and throwing 60 yards," he said. "Standing in one spot."

When Hunter, 17, came to Oak Grove last year, he found out that summer practices had a special visitor. Right there alongside the kids was Favre.

The NFL legend's oldest daughter graduated from Oak Grove, and he has another girl in the local middle school, so he's comfortable at the place. It's a sanctuary of sorts, where he has eased himself back into football season. In recent years, it's where he has kept himself in shape as he struggled with the decision about whether to stay retired or play on. It's where he seems to rediscover the joy for the game.

He runs the same sprints as the players, racing against the coaches' stopwatches just like them. He throws balls to the receivers, helps them run better routes. And, at one recent practice, he even told his high school "teammates" that he wished he could come back to the NFL.

At first, Hunter was more concerned about not getting his head knocked off than with picking up tips.

"When I first started doing it, whoo, that ball was coming," he said. "I was scared to catch it. Every pass he throws whistles."

Early on, Hunter learned a valuable lesson. Catch the ball with your hands.

"If it hits your body, it's gonna hurt," he said. "One day I was running a route, and I took my eye off it and it hit me in my stomach. It was a big bruise."

The biggest reminder of just how good Favre is comes when the prep quarterbacks step in and suddenly everything falls apart. Hunter and the other receivers get used to Favre putting every pass right in their hands. No reaching back or slowing down or speeding up.

"He throws a perfect pass every time," he said. "Not like your regular quarterback."

Hunter says Favre is one of the guys, always telling jokes, passing out nicknames. Hunter falls a lot when catching Favre's passes, so the future Hall of Famer calls the senior wideout "Mop." As in: Somebody needs to clean him up.

"He has us laughing all the time," he said.

Mostly, the Green Bay Packers quarterback acts like another one of the coaches. But the players never forget that he is Brett Favre. No matter how many routes he runs, or how good he gets at catching the whistling spirals, Hunter still looks back and shakes his head.

"It's always, 'I can't believe I'm doing this,'" he said, laughing.

Wright Thompson is a senior writer for ESPN.com and ESPN The Magazine. He can be reached at wrightespn@gmail.com.