Bengals add internationa flavor to draft picks
CINCINNATI (AP) — Gold medals in track and field. A whirlwind time learning a new sport from a video football game. A piano recital with a bunch of 6-year-olds.
As Estonian Margus Hunt recounted his meandering path to the NFL, new Cincinnati Bengals teammate Giovani Bernard listened and marveled.
“By the way, I’m learning so much about this guy right now,” said Bernard, the first running back taken in the draft. “He’s a track and field star, gold medal, piano player. Go ahead — I’m learning a lot.”
Hunt has a lot to tell.
The Bengals gave their roster an international flavor by taking the 6-foot-8, 277-pound defensive end from Southern Methodist in the second round on Friday night. They brought in Hunt, Bernard — their other second-round pick from North Carolina — and third-round safety Shawn Williams from Georgia on Saturday to get acquainted.
Nobody’s came from farther away than Hunt, who was a national star in Estonia when he won gold medals in discus and shot put at the World Junior Championships. He went to SMU to develop his track and field future, only to have the school drop the sport.
What to do next?
He’d lifted weights with the football team and accepted an invitation to try out in a sport he knew nothing about — not even how to put on the pads. He learned the various positions and how defenses operate by buying a “Madden NFL” game and taking it home to Estonia over the Christmas holiday.
At first, his family and friends were appalled that he was giving up a chance to represent his country in track and field.
“Some people called me a national traitor at one point,” Hunt said. “Track and field is something they’re really proud of. Now, they finally understand.”
Now, here he is. Hunt has never seen an NFL game in person, but he’ll get a chance to play in one starting next fall.
“It’s been weird, a roller coaster ride to say the least,” Hunt said. “Six years ago, I was sure I was going to be at the 2012 Olympics. You never know what life’s going to bring to you.”
Take that piano recital, for instance.
Hunt decided to take a piano class for one semester in 2011. He learned one full song — “Expression” — and agreed to play it at a recital organized by his teacher. Her other students were much, much younger.
“I go over there and all of her other students are 6-year-olds,” Hunt said. “So I thought I’m going to have time in-between because I was the last one to perform. So I just sat back. The first five went through in 2 minutes. I had to rush.
“I’ve never been that nervous in my entire life.”
Compared to that, the NFL should be a breeze.
The Bengals joined the rush of teams adding foreign-born players in the draft. Defensive end Ziggy Ansah of BYU (Ghana), defensive end Bjoern Werner (Germany) and offensive tackle Menelik Watson (Britain) were picked in the first two rounds along with Hunt. Linebacker Cisio Moore (Liberia) was drafted in the third round.
It required a world map to scout this year’s draft.
“You’ve got four (defensive linemen) that are foreign-born players that you’re evaluating to play in the National Football League,” Bengals defensive line coach Jay Hayes said. “It’s crazy. But that’s how big this game is. It’s going global. It’s a great thing.”
There’s no pressure on him to perform right away. The Bengals have a lot of depth on their defensive line and will give him time to learn the intricacies of the game.
The Bengals opened the draft by taking Notre Dame tight end Tyler Eifert in the first round, followed by Bernard and Hunt in the second. They selected strong safety Shawn Williams from Georgia in the third round.
Cincinnati spent the final day of the draft on Saturday looking for players who can add depth and compete on special teams.
They took linebacker Sean Porter from Texas A&M in the fourth round; guard Tanner Hawkinson from Kansas in the fifth; Nebraska running back Rex Burkhead and receiver Cobi Hamilton from Arkansas in the sixth; and Ohio State offensive tackle Reid Fragel and center T.J. Johnson from South Carolina with compensatory picks in the seventh round.
Follow Joe Kay on Twitter: http://twitter.com/apjoekay