It came 15 years later than he was expecting, but Devin Hester finally got his scholarship offer from Pete Carroll.
Or something like that.
Hester, once a top recruit at Palm Beach Gardens High School in Florida, was recruited by nearly every major college program in country—with from one notable exception, Carroll's USC Trojans. But while Carroll and USC missed on Hester back in the early 2000s, they did not pass at the chance to add one of the NFL's all-time great returners this week, signing Hester Wednesday to fill the void left by Tyler Lockett's season-ending injury.
"I told Coach Pete that he finally gave me a scholarship," Hester said after his first practice with Seahawks. "They were the only college that didn't offer me a scholarship when I was in high school, so I said, 'Hey, I appreciate you giving me a scholarship coach.'"
This isn't the first time Hester has given Carroll a hard time about this, also bringing it up prior to a 2010 game in Chicago when he was still playing for the Bears. Later that season when the Seahawks were preparing to face the Bears in the playoffs, Carroll acknowledge that "We missed him somehow… We just missed him. That's how it goes sometimes."
More than a decade later, Carroll didn't pass on a chance to add Hester, a four-time Pro-Bowler and three-time First-Team All-Pro who holds the NFL record for return touchdowns with 20. Hester gives the Seahawks an experienced option to return both kicks and punts with Lockett out, and while he might not be exactly the same player at 34 that he was in his prime with the Bears, he "still has the stuff," as special teams coach Brian Schneider put it.
For a special teams coach, the measure a good returner is identifying a player, "who you don't want to play against," Schneider said. "And I've never enjoyed playing against him. I'd assume most special teams caches would say that, because he's such a threat, and he affects different things. He affects how you punt the ball and kick the ball, so he was never a guy I looked forward to going against."
And as much as the Seahawks see Hester as a good fit, the feeling is mutual for a veteran seeking his first Super Bowl ring. Hester is in Seattle not just because the Seahawks need a returner, but also because as team heading into its fifth straight postseason, the Seahawks offer him a chance to pursue one of the few things missing from an impressive résumé. After the Baltimore Ravens released Hester earlier this season, he was ready to seriously consider retirement if the right opportunity with a contender didn't emerge.
"I told my agent that if was a team that was a playoff contender, I would sign, but if it was a team that was missing a returner but had no hopes of making the playoffs, I wasn't going to sign anywhere," Hester said.
"This is a blessing to get an opportunity to be back in the playoffs. My goal now, with the career that I had, I don't have a Super Bowl ring, and what a great opportunity I have now to be able to play for the Seattle Seahawks."
Take a look back at some of the best photos of Devin Hester, the former All-Pro and Pro Bowl return specialist the Seahawks signed Wednesday, January 4, as they ready for their Wild Card playoff game against the Detroit Lions.