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Devin Hester, the soft-spoken Chicago Bear with a boxer’s build and a baby face, was about to break down and cry. Here was another team, rearranging his life, again.
After months of very casual conversations about playing offense instead of defense, talk with teammates and coaches had turned serious. Everyone, it seemed, wanted Hester to make the change. Head coach Lovie Smith had gone from mentioning it once a month to talking about it nearly every day. Now, Smith was calling Hester to a meeting in his office at Bears headquarters in Lake Forest.
“The same thing happened to me in college,” Hester, 24, says of his days at the University of Miami. “It hurt my game. People were always saying, ‘Where should we put him?’” When Hester left college for the NFL, scouts questioned his ability to play any position at all. “I didn’t want to go through the same problems all over again,” Hester says.
Still, who could blame Coach Smith for trying? A few months removed from Hester’s record-breaking rookie season (six kick returns for touchdowns, including the first ever opening-kickoff touchdown in a Super Bowl), the move to offense seemed logical. Why should the team wait for kickoffs and punts to see what Hester could do? “Coach Lovie said it was my decision,” says Hester, the team’s first rookie All-Pro since Brian Urlacher (2001). “But he said that my playing offense would make him the happiest man in the world.”
Sitting in Smith’s photo-filled office overlooking the practice field, Hester says tears welled up in his eyes.He stared at the floor. “I wanted to do whatever was best for the team,” Hester recalls thinking. “But it was still hard. I told him that it had been frustrating, that I was stressed out.”