It’s hard to imagine another return specialist better than the Chicago Bears’ Devin Hester.
While Dante Hall, Desmond Howard, Brian Mitchell, Josh Cribbs, Billy “White Shoes” Johnson, and Eric Metcalf were all great return specialists, Hester is arguably the greatest in pro football history.
By the time Hester retired from the National Football League in 2017, he had set a new league record with 20 career returns for touchdowns.
Hester did not just rack up those returns for touchdowns, but he also did them with flair reminiscent of his mentor, Deion “Prime Time” Sanders.
He was so good, many opposing coaches refused to put the ball in Hester’s hands in punt and kickoff return coverages.
If they did, he would have galloped toward the end zone.
Devin Hester should earn his rightful place in the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, OH someday.
Devin Devorris Hester, Sr. was born to parents Lenorris Sr. and Juanita in Riviera Beach, FL on November 4, 1982.
Devin Hester grew up following the NFL’s Miami Dolphins.
“I grew up watching them,” Hester told The Palm Beach Post’s Jodie Wagner in the spring of 2014. “It’s closer to home. It’s closer to my family.”
Hester also idolized future Hall of Fame defensive back, Deion Sanders. They eventually developed a tight friendship when Devin entered the NFL ranks.
“The camera was always on him, and that’s the type of player I saw myself as,” Hester told SI.com’s Adam Duerson in December 2007.
Devin scored his first touchdown Prime Time style when he was 11 years old.
He told Duerson he played linebacker in Pop Warner football. He then intercepted the quarterback on the game’s first play. When Hester was about to run into the end zone, he high-stepped like his childhood idol, Deion Sanders.
Hester and his older brother Lenorris Jr. were involved in the nearby Boys and Girls Club when they were kids.
Hester eventually established a youth-oriented foundation during his playing days in the National Football League.
Devin told the New York Daily News prior to Super Bowl XLI in February 2007 that talented kids surrounded him during his youth in South Florida. Whenever he went outside, he always saw kids playing sports.
Hester went through some turbulent times during his formative years.
Devin’s mom, Juanita, who worked as a mail carrier, was involved in a near-fatal auto accident that left her practically paralyzed in 1992. Consequently, she was bedridden for several weeks.
Two years later, his father, Lenorris Sr., passed away when Devin was twelve years old. Lenorris Hester, Sr. was just 33 years old.
“I was lucky that I had a stepfather, Derrick Brown, who treated us like one of his own,” Devin told the Chicago Tribune in 2007. “But I’m not going to lie. Losing my dad was rough.”
Devin Hester becomes the first Suncoast student-athlete to have his jersey retired! The Chargers take on Ft. Pierce-Westwood tonight. pic.twitter.com/Q9RJnZmcdF
— Paxton Boyd (@paxton) October 13, 2017
Devin used sports, particularly the gridiron, as a means to cope with his frustrations.
Derrick Brown soon played one-on-one backyard football with his two stepsons.
Lennoris Jr., who was older than Devin by eleven months, got a head start on the gridiron. The former eventually played wide receiver for the Florida International Golden Panthers in college.
Lenorris Jr. told the Chicago Tribune that his younger brother had no clue what to do with his life at the time. He felt he somehow inspired Devin to also play football by watching him.
Devin Hester attended Suncoast Community High School in his hometown of Riviera Beach, FL.
Hester was fortunate to study at Suncoast, a school that had rigid academic standards.
Many of his contemporaries were not as lucky. Since the school did not accept them, they had to attend other schools.
Hester did not take his education for granted. The New York Daily News described him as a “solid student” during his high school days.
Hester was a Jack of all trades for the Suncoast Chargers football team. He took the field as a wide receiver, defensive back, running back, and kick return specialist.
Before long, Hester’s friends gave him the moniker “Sugar Foot” because of his sweet footwork on the gridiron, per SI.com.
Hester produced impressive stats on both sides of the ball as a senior in 2002.
He had 1,014 rushing yards and 12 rushing touchdowns on 94 carries as a running back.
On the other hand, he had 1,028 receiving yards and nine receiving touchdowns on 38 receptions as a wide receiver. Hester also had five touchdown passes for 225 passing yards for good measure.
On the defensive side of the ball, Hester had 156 tackles, 3.0 sacks, and one fumble recovery in his final season with the Chargers.
Hester eventually earned Parade Magazine All-American and USA TODAY First-Team All-American honors toward the end of his high school football career.
Devin Hester was also a speedster on Suncoast High’s track team. He became a Prep All-American in his junior year.
Hester was also the second-best high school long jumper in the country as a junior.
Deciding on a College
Per the Hurricanes’ official athletics website, Devin whittled down his college shortlist to the Georgia Bulldogs, Miami Hurricanes, North Carolina State Wolfpack, Purdue Boilermakers, and Florida State Seminoles.
Devin Hester ultimately decided to remain in-state and stay close to his old stomping grounds.
When Hester committed to the Miami Hurricanes toward the end of his high school athletics career, he chose a program that would help him reach his full potential as one of the most electrifying returners in pro football history.
College Days with the Miami Hurricanes
Devin Hester attended the University of Miami from 2003 to 2005.
He ran into another stumbling block after he graduated from high school. He had to sit out a year because of his below-average SAT scores, per the New York Daily News.
Hester bawled his eyes out inside his bedroom for two weeks after he found out he had to skip his first year at Miami, per the Chicago Tribune’s Richard Haugh.
Hester told Haugh his low SAT scores added insult to injury. Many people felt he was not going to receive his high school diploma and eventually go to college.
For his part, Suncoast Chargers head football coach Jimmie Bell consoled the multitalented Hester. The former told him failure was not the end of the world. Hester had to trudge forward and persevere.
That’s exactly what Devin Hester did.
Hester’s mother also consoled him during this trying time. Juanita, who did some ministry work in Asia and Africa, told him his dream was still alive. She reminded him bad times don’t last forever.
Devin took his mother’s words to heart, hit the books, and eventually passed the SAT.
Meeting His Hero
During Hester’s time at the U, the football player he grew up idolizing, Deion Sanders, heard about his fascination with him.
Sanders left a message in Hester’s voicemail one day. He told the young Devin that he wanted to become a prominent figure in his life.
Hester agreed without hesitation. It turned out Sanders previously asked his then-Baltimore Ravens teammate and former Miami Hurricanes player Ed Reed to keep him in touch with the young upstart.
One of my greatest moments in Hurricane history. The first time we ever saw Devin Hester…🏠call pic.twitter.com/2eBhsbQacw
— Caneville (@caneville305) January 7, 2020
In 2007—his second season with the NFL’s Chicago Bears—Hester told SI.com that his mentor had been texting him daily without fail.
According to Hester, he and Sanders talked about a wide range of topics outside of football. They discussed money, women, and carrying one’s self off the gridiron, to name a few.
Hester earned two more nicknames when he played for the Miami Hurricanes: “Hurricane” Hester (a reference to his team’s nickname) and “Anytime” (a moniker similar to his mentor Deion Sanders’s nickname of “Prime Time”).
Devin knew from the outset that he was going to become a special player at Miami.
As a 20-year-old freshman, Hester told reporters during media day that he was going to score a touchdown on a kickoff return in his first NCAA game, per the Chicago Tribune.
Hester’s prediction came true in his second game against the Hurricanes’ in-state rivals, the Florida Gators.
Hester scored a 97-yard touchdown on a kickoff return in Miami’s 38-33 victory on September 6, 2003. It was the fifth-longest return in Hurricanes football program history.
Devin was so excited, he unbuckled his chin strap, took his helmet off, and celebrated euphorically in the end zone.
Unfortunately, officials threw a flag for excessive celebration.
Sophomore and Junior Years
Hester took his game to greater heights as a sophomore in 2004. He scored three touchdowns on punt returns and had another one on a kickoff return that year.
Hester’s ball-hawking skills on defense also garnered national attention. His four interceptions led the Hurricanes in 2004.
Devin earned several accolades at the end of his second year in Miami. He became a Walter Camp All-American and earned First-Team All-SEC honors as a kick returner.
Miami Hurricane Devin Hester should be enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. pic.twitter.com/IHh1zVYesy
— GO ‘CANES! (@83_87_89_91_01) September 22, 2022
Hester broke up with his fiancée, Tamara James, sometime during his junior season with the Hurricanes in 2005.
James was a women’s basketball player with the WNBA’s Washington Mystics. She and Devin each have a competitive nature. They tried to beat each other when they played video games, basketball, and card games.
James fumed at Hester for an entire day whenever he beat her at anything. Hester confirmed to Duerson that this was not the reason they parted ways.
Hester and James met during the former’s freshman season in 2003. Devin proposed to her at halftime of an NBA playoff game between the Miami Heat and Detroit Pistons on June 6, 2005.
In Hester’s three seasons at Miami, the Hurricanes averaged ten wins per season from 2003 to 2005.
Miami made three bowl appearances and won two of them—the 2003 Orange Bowl and the 2004 Peach Bowl—during that span.
A Tough Decision
Hester was in a bind at the end of his junior season with the Hurricanes in 2005. He was torn about whether to stay for his senior season or turn professional.
Hester leaned toward staying for one more year so he could fulfill a promise he had made to his late father, Lenorris Sr., that he would earn his college degree.
On the other hand, Hester also thought about declaring for the 2006 NFL Draft so he could help his family. Hurricane Frances ravaged their South Florida residence during his sophomore year at Miami in 2004.
Hester’s childhood hero, Deion Sanders, encouraged his protege to listen to his heart in the winter of 2005, per the Chicago Tribune.
Hester’s heart told him his family came first, so he opted to skip his senior season. Besides, he could fulfill his promise to his dad at a later time.
Devin Hester also felt it was the right time to play at football’s highest level.
Hester’s hunch was right. While it took some time for many players to reach their full potential in the pro football ranks, it did not take long for Devin Hester to prove he was one of the best returners the NFL had ever seen.
Pro Football Career
The Chicago Bears made Devin Hester the 57th overall selection of the 2006 NFL Draft.
Hester almost became a member of the Arizona Cardinals on draft night.
Cardinals special teams coach Gary Zauner coveted the do-it-all Hester. He implored the coaching staff to take him off the draft board in the second round, per The Athletic.
Zauner’s bosses told him they would snag Hester in the third round.
It was too late. The Bears drafted him and the rest was history. For his part, Hester would make Arizona pay for passing on him in the draft.
57 days until the NFL season!
The Bears drafted Devin Hester with the No. 5️⃣7️⃣ overall pick in the 2006 NFL Draft.
16 Receiving TD
14 Punt return TD (most ever)
5 Kickoff return TD
1 Field Goal return TD
1 Rushing TD
Hester was a threat to score EVERY TIME he touched the ball. pic.twitter.com/4hAct91ddt
— CBS Sports HQ (@CBSSportsHQ) July 15, 2020
According to the Chicago Tribune, the Bears gave Hester a $1.25 million signing bonus for being their second-round selection.
Devin Hester wasted no time in taking the NFL by storm.
He caught Green Bay Packers Jon Ryan’s 50-yard punt and ran 84 yards for a touchdown in his NFL debut on September 10, 2006. The Bears shut out the Packers, 26-0.
Hester’s first NFL touchdown was reminiscent of his 97-yard touchdown on a kickoff return against the Florida Gators in the fall of 2003. He made a loud statement at the beginning of his career.
Hester scored on a scintillating 83-yard punt return for a touchdown in the fourth quarter of the Bears’ exciting 24-23 victory over the Arizona Cardinals in Week 6 of his rookie season.
Hester’s heroics capped off a stirring Bears comeback from an early 20-0 deficit. The loss prompted Cardinals head coach Dennis Green to go on his famous “The Bears are who we thought they were!” rant in his post-game press conference.
Humbled by an Idol
Legendary cornerback Deion Sanders had been Hester’s idol while he was growing up in South Florida.
When Hester taunted the St. Louis Rams after he scored a touchdown on a punt return during his rookie year in 2006, Sanders rebuked him.
It was somewhat ironic considering Sanders had a flamboyant personality during his playing days. Nevertheless, Hester took it all in and listened.
While Sanders and Hester both had a tendency to act flashy on the gridiron, they also relied on their strong faith.
For his part, Hester has a tattoo of Isaiah 54:17 from the Holy Bible on his back which reads, “No weapon that is formed against me shall be able to prosper.”
As Hester’s star rose to unprecedented heights in the National Football League, his confidence soared.
Including his touchdowns against the Packers and Rams, Hester had five touchdowns on returns as a Bears rookie in 2006.
#DaBears return to the gridiron for meaningful games 9 Sundays from today, so let’s pass some time by watching some Devin Hester highlights
— Bleacher Nation Bears (@BN_Bears) July 11, 2021
Hester told SI.com that he would not risk kicking the ball to him if he were the opposing punter. He made it a habit to ask the punter what their game plan was before the opening kickoff.
One time, a Philadelphia Eagles punter told him they were not kicking the ball to him.
Baltimore Ravens punter Sam Koch and San Francisco 49ers kicker Robbie Gould took it a step further. They told Hester before kickoffs that he did not have to lace up his cleats because there was absolutely no way they would put the ball in his hands, per The Athletic.
Hester also told Duerson that players frequently approached him after a ball sailed out of bounds on a kickoff or punt. They told Hester (who became known as the “Windy City Flyer” for good reason) that they were delighted because they did not have to cover him on the return.
Super Bowl XLI
The Indianapolis Colts learned this lesson the hard way in Super Bowl XLI.
Behind Hester’s sensational rookie season, the Bears won thirteen games in 2006. They also advanced to their first Super Bowl since the 1985 NFL season—the year when they manhandled the New England Patriots in Super Bowl XX.
Leading up to Super Bowl XLI, the Colts decided they would not kick the ball to Hester.
Colts team chaplain Ken Johnson spoke with the team several days before kickoff. He reminded them of how brave and diminutive David slew the giant Goliath in the Old Testament.
That message resonated deeply with Indianapolis head coach Tony Dungy. He challenged his team and asked them why they were treating Hester like Goliath.
Dungy changed Indy’s strategy. He told his troops they would kick the ball right down the middle to Hester if they lost the coin toss. Doing that meant they were not afraid of Hester.
Regrettably, Dungy’s strategy backfired and blew up in his face.
When Devin Hester returned the opening kickoff of Super Bowl XLI for a touchdown🔥
— Footballism™ (@FootbaIIism) October 17, 2022
Devin Hester wasted no time in embarrassing the Colts. He caught Adam Vinatieri’s kickoff at the Bears’ eight-yard line, cut to his right, and made Indy’s defenders miss with ease.
Hester rumbled down the right sideline and scored a touchdown on a kickoff return in the game’s opening seconds.
According to The Athletic, that was the only time it has happened in Super Bowl history. It was also the quickest touchdown in the game’s 40-year history (14 seconds).
Just like that, 24-year-old rookie Devin Hester had made pro football history.
Regrettably, Chicago could not sustain its momentum. Peyton Manning’s Colts eventually prevailed in rainy Miami, FL, 29-17.
No One-Trick Pony
Despite the heartbreaking loss, Hester proved he was not a fluke and a one-trick pony.
Hester racked up another six touchdowns on returns in his second pro football season in 2007.
The first time Chicago squared off against its NFC North nemesis, the Detroit Lions, that year, Hester burned them for a 97-yard kickoff return.
When the two teams played each other at Chicago’s Soldier Field several weeks later, Lions head coach Rod Marinelli vowed never to kick to Hester again.
“Kick the ball into Lake Michigan and make sure that it floats to the bottom,” Marinelli said at the time (via The Athletic‘s Dan Pompei and Mike Sando).
That same year, Hester got into a verbal spat with Denver Broncos punter and return specialist Todd Sauerbrun during a pre-game press conference and on the gridiron.
This was one of *two* games where Devin Hester had multiple kick returns for TDs in the same game. 🐐
Todd Sauerbrun said they were going to “challenge” Hester…he did, and he returned both a kickoff and a punt for a TD.
Sauerbrun was cut 3 weeks later. pic.twitter.com/8Hw7vFQKIQ
— Will Applebee (@NOTSCWill) November 25, 2020
Undaunted, Sauerbrun kicked to Hester, who torched him for touchdowns on a kick return 88 yards deep and a punt return 75 yards long.
Hester also had the better of Minnesota Vikings punter Chris Kluwe. Hester recorded three of his 14 career punt returns for touchdowns against Kluwe.
Kluwe once thought he finally pinned Hester deep in Bears territory when his 54-yard punt landed on the left side of Chicago’s 11-yard line.
When Hester took two steps backward, Kluwe was confident Minnesota’s special teams would smother him.
Chris Kluwe thought wrong.
Hester shook off four Vikings defenders at the Bears’ six-yard line, turned on the afterburners, and took it to the house for an 89-yard touchdown.
An exasperated Kluwe told The Athletic in 2022 only Hester could make a play like that.
Minnesota’s head coach at the time, Brad Childress, wanted to thrust his foot out so Hester could trip.
Building His Own Legend
Forget about tackling Devin Hester. Green Bay Packers placekicker Mason Crosby once underestimated Devin’s running prowess.
When Crosby tried tackling Hester’s legs, the latter’s knees collided with the back portion of Crosby’s left arm. Consequently, Crosby’s left shoulder throbbed for three to four weeks.
The Packers even tried using three starting linebackers and one starting safety to shackle Hester in punt coverage in his fifth pro football season.
The ploy did not work. Hester toyed with them and scored a touchdown on a punt return.
Devin Hester became a free agent in the spring of 2014. He split his final three NFL seasons among the Atlanta Falcons, Baltimore Ravens, and Seattle Seahawks from 2014 to 2016.
CURTAINS ✌🏾 Appreciate all of the love for all these years!!! Y’all made the ride incredible!!! pic.twitter.com/jkcVrRLcNI
— Devin Hester (@D_Hest23) December 12, 2017
Devin Hester, arguably the greatest return man in the history of pro football, made his retirement official on December 12, 2017.
On April 23, 2018, Hester signed a one-day contract with the Chicago Bears so he could retire as a member of the organization that gave him his start.
The Bears averaged nine wins per season with Devin Hester as their return specialist from 2006 to 2013. Chicago made just two playoff appearances during that eight-season stretch.
Hester had a league-record 20 career returns for touchdowns—14 on punt returns alone—when he retired from the NFL in 2017.
There was no question he could have recorded more.
Retirement and Legacy
Hester told The Athletic in January 2022—the month he became a finalist for that year’s Pro Football Hall of Fame’s Class—he would have had more touchdowns had opponents kicked or punted to him more frequently during his stellar eleven-year pro football career.
Hester’s special teams coach with the Bears, Dave Toub, agreed. Chicago practiced fielding squibs and bloops incessantly because their opponents did those in special teams plays game in and game out.
“Forget the normal kick,” Toub told The Athletic in January 2022. “The normal kick, he was going to return those for touchdowns.”
Former Detroit Lions head coach Rod Marinelli thought Devin Hester’s charisma set him apart from other return specialists of his generation.
Marinelli told The Athletic that his Lions players stood up from the bench just so they could catch a glimpse of Hester on the football field.
“He was like Jim Thorpe to me,” Marinelli told Pompei and Sando. “In my mind, no question he’s a Hall of Famer and the best I’ve seen at returning.”
Devin Hester's NFL records:
– Career RET-TD (20) & PR-TD (14)
– YDS/PR (11.7) [min 300 PR]
– Top2 season RET-TD (6 x2)
– T-most season PR-TD (4)
– T-most RET-TD (2) in 1 GP
– 3rd most career PR-YDS (3,695)pic.twitter.com/F8bAEgHXkZ
— Pro Sports Outlook (@PSO_Sports) October 8, 2022
At the time of Hester’s retirement in late 2017, he held thirteen NFL records, including:
- Most career kickoff and punt return touchdowns (19)
- Punt return touchdowns in a single season (four)
- Kickoff return touchdowns in a single game (two)
Hester also holds twenty-one Chicago Bears franchise records, including:
- Most career punt return yards: 3,241
- Most punt return yards in a single season: 651
- Most punt return yards in a single game: 152
Indeed, Devin Hester was a once-in-a-generation type of player whose story was worth telling many times over.
Devin Hester, his wife, and their three sons currently reside in the Orlando, FL area.
The Suncoast Chargers, Hester’s high school football team, retired his No. 23 jersey in the fall of 2017.
He was the first student athlete in school history who had his jersey number retired, per The Palm Beach Post.
Hester has spent much of his time in retirement focusing on his Anytime 23 Empowerment Center.
— Devin Hester (@D_Hest23) November 7, 2021
The non-profit organization provides after-school programs for youth who are between 6 and 18 years old. Hester’s older brother Lenorris Jr. currently serves as its executive director.
Hester is also currently a spokesman and business partner of the sports betting company PointsBet.
Apart from Devin Hester’s career, he spends quality time with his family and coaches AAU football.