LOUISVILLE, KY. (WDRB) -- For most players chasing an NFL dream, any sliver of a chance to make a roster is enough to send them scurrying to the airport with a carry-on packed with hope.
That was Hunter Cantwell's instinctive response when the Jacksonville Jaguars invited him to training camp recently. He was released by the Baltimore Ravens after the sixth week of the season a year ago, but spent most of three seasons on NFL practice squads.
He got to travel and be around the NFL experience. Late in the 2009 season he was promoted to the Carolina Panthers' active roster. He got an NFL paycheck. In the first two NFL exhibition games he ever played, he went 9-of-16 for 120 yards and the only TD the team had thrown to that point.
But Cantwell never got to attempt a pass in an NFL regular-season game. And that weighs on a guy with a football dream.
But here's the thing about Cantwell. He has dreams, but he also understands reality. So when Jacksonville called with a longshot chance of trying to make the roster in training camp, he weighed it against a new opportunity -- a chance to be quarterbacks coach with his old high school coach now the head man at Campbellsville University -- and he said no to that NFL spot.
It's not an easy thing to do when you've been working out for months just trying to stay in shape for the opportunity.
"It was a very difficult decision," Cantwell said today. "It was a really tough call. The big thing was, it was just too late. If they had called me to come in June or May, if there had been an opportunity to go in and be evaluated and get more reps and not just going into camp and the starter is taking all the reps, I might've done it.
"The athlete and competitor inside you says you've done this for a long time. You're talented. You've done this. You've gone into a camp and made it before. But looking at it rationally and thinking about my family and the odds and what taking that opportunity would mean if it were to not work out -- getting released, going back to Louisville and grinding and praying and basically going back to Square One -- it wasn't something I was prepared to do. It was still an incredibly difficult decision. In fact, it's still weighing on me, but I feel good about what I decided."
They certainly feel good about Cantwell at Campbellsville, where he'll report for work next Monday.
He's played for Bobby Petrino, John Fox, John Harbaugh and others. And he didn't just play for them, he learned from them. He still remembers specific game plans from his college days, and had the grasp of a coach on the field even as a player.
He's been active since graduation in various ministry efforts, is a sought-after speaker around the state, and has settled into married life. But he said he always figured he'd want to remain involved with football through coaching.
"Hunter, we think, will bring a great deal of expertise to the game with his experience and knowledge, from playing at Louisville and in the NFL," Campbellsville coach Perry Thomas said. "He's going to be raw coaching because he's never coached before but we think he's going to bring a lot of technique to our position. Those guys need an individual coach. That's one thing we've struggled with in the past couple of years is them having someone to call daddy. And now we think Hunter will be able to come in and fill that void. He's a great man of character, a great Christian gentleman who will do a great job with our guys on and off the field."
While Cantwell says he's excited to get involved with a college staff, he says he has no designs on becoming the next Nick Saban. His college aspirations, in fact, may be at another level.
Cantwell is looking into earning his Master's Degree and perhaps going into teaching.
"Ever since I was a freshman in college, whenever my career was going to be done, I always knew I wanted to stay around the sport, and coaching would be the most enjoyable most rewarding thing," Cantwell said. "Going forward, I don't know if I want to stay in college and try to move up those ranks. Especially in the Division I level, the time demands are getting longer and longer every year. I saw that with the staffs at U of L and the hours that they put in and I don't ever want to be away from my family for too long. That would always be a consideration as I looked at other jobs.
"This job at Campbellsville is a great chance to get my feet wet, go back to school and get my masters, and if I want to coach high school football that might be appealing to me."
No matter what level Cantwell winds up coaching, chances are he'll be able to teach his players quite a bit about perspective, and making tough calls.
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