There was a point during last week’s Pro Bowl skills challenge when Chiefs running back Kareem Hunt just looked around and smiled.
To his left was Seattle quarterback Russell Wilson. To his right was Miami receiver Jarvis Landry.
To think that Hunt would share the same field with them, during an event he grew up watching — after being a third-round pick, no less — was a significant achievement. And Hunt, who led the league in rushing as a rookie in 2017, knew it.
“It’s definitely kind of crazy,” Hunt said. “You know, I always watched this stuff on TV, and growing up, I always paid attention to the Pro Bowl and watching these guys perform.”
So, yes, for Hunt, the experience of Pro Bowl week was far more meaningful than the actual game, in which he rushed for 4 yards in four carries and caught three passes for 9 yards in the AFC’s 24-23 win over the NFC on Sunday.
The practices turned out to be especially fruitful, as he regularly picked the brains of Steelers star Le’Veon Bell and Bills star LeSean McCoy, both of whom have had the kind of careers Hunt would like to have.
“Learning extra little things about taking care of my body, what goes through their mind or what they do during the days,” Hunt said.
Throughout the week, Hunt made a positive impression on both of the veteran stars with his humility and willingness to learn.
“I told him ‘Make sure you stay on your details,’ ” said Bell, a two-time All-Pro. “That’s the big thing about young players; they’ve got to find a way to keep perfecting their craft.
“Yeah, he has good raw talent, he’s a good skill player. But he’s got to find ways to get better, because guys in his division and teams will eventually play him two times a year and they’ll pick up on his style a little bit. So he’s got to be able to adjust and still be able to make plays when his team needs him to.”
McCoy also reminded Hunt not to get complacent, but was sure to add that he shouldn’t take for granted the kind of season he just had. Hunt rushed for 1,327 yards and eight touchdowns in 272 carries this season and became only the second Chiefs rookie to top 1,000 yards and the first to lead the league in rushing.
“I told him how cool it is to actually be in the Pro Bowl as a rookie — that’s hard to do,” McCoy said. “I told him you’ve just got to embrace that and keep working hard. He has a bright future and a good coach. The sky’s the limit for him.”
Interestingly enough, while Hunt led the league in missed tackles — and McCoy has long been known for his elusiveness — he doesn’t see many similarities between their running styles, though he expects Hunt to continue to improve thanks to the presence of Andy Reid, who coached McCoy in Philadelphia from 2009 to 2012.
“I think we’re a lot different — he runs a little harder than I do,” McCoy said. “But Andy Reid, he coaches you on all of it. Catching the ball, running the ball, blocking. He wants a complete running back. That’s one thing I love about Andy. He’s made me out to be an all-around better player, and also being a smart player.
“A lot of running backs aren’t that smart — not to diss people — but he makes you know why you’re doing this, what we’re looking to do, and that helps you be a better player.”
Hunt is already looking forward to it, and expects to report for offseason conditioning in mid-April at 215 pounds, which he considers his ideal playing weight.
“I’ll just act like I never really made it,” Hunt said. “I just love the game of football, so I’m gonna keep pushing.”