While serving his eight-game NFL suspension for losing control of his emotions and being captured on videotape shoving and kicking a woman during an argument in a hotel hallway while he played for Kansas City, the Browns running back gained a deeper appreciation for all he's been given — and how quickly it can vanish.
His long wait is over. He's been counting down since his career stopped suddenly. "Like 342 days," he said. Hunt will return to the field this week for the first time since the league punished him for his disturbing behavior.
On Sunday, Hunt, the former league rushing champion, will make his debut for Cleveland — his hometown — as the Browns (2-6) host the Buffalo Bills (6-2). "I'm just excited. A lot of mixed emotions, high and low," he said, speaking to reporters for the first time since Aug. 15. "It's going to be a very fun, emotional game, and I'm definitely going to be excited to get out there and do whatever I can to play the role and help this team win."
This is Hunt's second chance. He can't count on a third. He knows every move on and off the field is being watched. "I'm under a microscope," he said following practice Thursday, which marked 342 days since the Chiefs released him. "I'm not trying to put anything in jeopardy. I had a lot of time to think about, if I get in this situation, how I'm going to handle this? If I get in this situation, how am I going to handle that? This happened, how am I going to handle that?
"You get a lot of time to really reflect and think about those things. I'm good with it." Hunt has been practicing with the Browns for two weeks, giving the 24-year-old time to get into better shape and relearn Cleveland's playbook.
There was a time not long ago when Hunt wondered if he'd play again. "The first couple of weeks I wasn't sure," he said. "But after a while, I just prayed to God and put it in his hands and did everything I could and stayed positive and made sure I stayed in the weight room and the gym and just kept my goals ahead and looked forward."
After the Chiefs cut him because he lied about the incidents, the Browns signed Hunt on Feb. 11, a month before the league handed down its suspension. He was allowed to practice with the team during training camp but was slowed by a groin injury that eventually led to surgery in August to repair a sports hernia.
Hunt said he's now 100 percent physically and in a better place emotionally. He takes nothing for granted. "I just really appreciate the fact that I get to go out and do this every day and it made me appreciate it even more, waking up every morning and coming to work even though there were days when I didn't like doing it," he said. "But now it's just, 'Yeah, I get to go to work again today' and now it's just a great feeling to be able to come here and train and put the grind in."
The Browns have dropped four straight games, pushing a season that began with promise into peril. They're hoping Hunt can provide a spark. Wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. is eager to see what Hunt does when he gets the ball.
"I just know he's ready," Beckham said. "I know he's going to come back, first play he gets the ball I don't know if there's going to be many juke moves. Somebody better watch out for either a stiff-arm or a shoulder or something. We're all excited to have him back."
Hunt laughed when asked about that first carry. "I've been thinking about it, but I'm gonna keep it to myself," he said. Hunt believes he's still the same powerful, versatile back he was before the incidents.
However, he doesn't feel like the same person. "Honestly, I had a lot of time to just sit and reflect and think and just look at the big picture and make sure I just overthink and look at everything from the outside in," he said. "I've been able to stay on top of things like thinking before you act and not react to little things and just keeping your emotions to yourself pretty much. I feel like my emotions were very high last year and I've kind of settled down a little bit more."
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