Motivated by family, Jeffrey Gunter is striving for greatness ahead of the 2022 NFL Draft

A close family bond has taken Coastal Carolina defensive end Jeffrey Gunter from North Carolina to the verge of the 2022 NFL Draft.

Versatile Coastal Carolina defensive prospect Jeffrey Gunter knows what it’s like to be overlooked. Coming out of Riverside High School, he held just one Division I offer. After five years in Conway, Gunter is certain to receive more attention in the 2022 NFL Draft. One woman saw his potential all along, and with the NFL in sight, Gunter is striving for greatness for more than just himself.

Motivated by family, Jeffrey Gunter is striving for greatness

“I’m motivated, I’m driven, and I want to be great.”

Throughout his interview with Pro Football Network, Gunter is beaming from ear to ear. His smile is electrifying, contagious almost. His energy resonates across the screen, across the thousands of miles that separate us virtually. Yet, at this moment, he’s more serious than at any other point in the half-hour we spend together.

It’s perhaps a reflection of how seriously Gunter is taking this process, this opportunity. He has plans and dreams aside from football. Those include owning his own business one day. But for now, the NFL is his hope. Football is his dream. He’s been overlooked before, and he doesn’t want to go back there. Throughout his recent success, he hasn’t forgotten the one person who believed in him from the start.

“I gotta give that to my mom,” Gunter grins the broadest of smiles when I ask him when he knew he could make it as a football player. “My mom saw it early. She always told me, ‘You got the talent, you got the talent, you got the talent.’ She believed it early. I don’t think I’d be here without my mom, she’s the GOAT for that!”

Jeffrey and Jennifer, the Batman and Robin of the Gunter family

The Coastal Carolina NFL Draft prospect plays football because of Jennifer Gunter. He plays football with the encouragement of his mom. Jennifer allowed a “real skinny, scrawny kid” who “instead of watching cartoons would watch NFL Network” to play football at the age of eight, and Jeffrey flourished. Her support throughout his football career has driven him to succeed.

“My mom is my everything. She never misses a game. Even when we played in Arkansas, she flew all the way to Arkansas to see me play. Before I go on the field every time, I either call her or go hug her. I can’t play without talking to my mom. She’s like my partner in crime. She’s Batman and I’m Robin. We’re just trying to take over the world.”

In 2019, Gunter was able to repay the support. With Jennifer experiencing some “really difficult” times, the Coastal Carolina defensive end transferred to North Carolina State to be closer to home. He’d help with the kids and be a moral and physical support for his mom. Some might describe his role as having to grow up at an early age, but that’s not how Gunter sees it.

“My mom’s all I got, you know. If she’s not feeling good, I want to make sure she’s straight. I guess you could say that growing up I had to think of someone other than myself. But my mom’s done everything for me, so I just wanted to pay her back as much as I could. If I had to change schools to do that, I was going to do that.”

Putting Riverside School on the footballing map

Growing up in North Carolina, football was Gunter’s early love. He talks passionately about “the Steelers and old-school Raiders with Jack Tatum.” Glued inseparably from NFL Network, one player in particular caught his eye, formed his football allegiance, and ultimately would have an influence on his play style.

“My favorite player of all time was Michael Strahan. He’s the reason I’m a [New York] Giants fan. He’s my favorite player. The charisma he brought, and the bull rush he had, it was dope. I try to play like him,” Gunter beams.

He took that charisma and play style to the field for Riverside High School. Despite asserting that “North Carolina has some dawgs! We produce a lot of good talent,” there have only been two players from the school who made it to the NFL. Furthermore, as of the 2021 season, there were no former Pirates on NFL rosters.

“Man, that’s everything to me,” Gunter remarks when I ask him what it would mean to put the name of the school on the NFL map. “Riverside’s not known for its football program. Just saying that I made it from there, that I stuck it out, that I put it on the map a little bit means everything. Hopefully, I open the door for people behind me and give somebody hope, hope that they can follow in my footsteps.”

Overlooked and underrated, Gunter lands at Coastal Carolina

During his final two years at Riverside, Gunter logged 83 tackles, 18 tackles for loss, and 8.5 sacks. Despite the production, he was viewed as a two-star prospect and the 178th defensive end in the 2017 recruiting class. As a result, he was overlooked, underrated, and ultimately under-recruited.

“My recruiting process was bad! I only had one D1 offer when I decided to commit to Coastal. There were some factors that I understood at the time. I only had one year of playing defensive end, I was really skinny — like 195 pounds. I understood why bigger schools were overlooking me, but I felt like my film was good enough to earn a shot.”

That one offer came from the Coastal Carolina Chanticleers, a program that was in its FBS infancy in 2017. It may have been his only opportunity to play top-level college football, but there was instantly something more than football at play for Gunter with the Chanticleers.

“It was a huge weight off my shoulders,” Gunter recalls his offer from Coastal. “You know, like, how something just fits? I remember walking around the campus and being like, ‘Yeah, I’m at home.’ As soon as I left my official visit, I committed, and the rest is history.”

Gunter embarks on a fairy-tale college career with Coastal

Like most freshmen, Gunter made an immediate impact on special teams. He acknowledges that experience should “help him stay in the league longer.” However, unlike a lot of freshmen, he contributed straight away on defense, logging 3.5 tackles for loss and making his first start against Arkansas in 2017.

“I was super nervous. They threw me in the fire against a P5 team, an SEC team,” he laughs. “But, I held my own. That game really changed the trajectory of my career. I was able to get a lot of confidence in myself because I went in there, held my own, and was able to make some plays. Being a young guy thrown into the fire, I respect them for doing that, and it showed how much they believed in me.”

The program and his teammates believed in Gunter so much that even as a true freshman in 2017, they made him a captain for the clash with Troy. His feelings on that recognition are a great indicator of the character that the Coastal Carolina defensive has demonstrated in his college career and what he’ll bring to the NFL.

“I’ve always tried to lead by example. For lack of a better word, bust my ass every day. I do everything I can to provide a good example for the people that are watching me. I had to scrape and fight for every opportunity. And I know what it feels like to be overlooked. I never want to go back to that.”

Excelling as the Chanticleers emerged on the national stage

In his sophomore season, Gunter elevated his game to receive national attention. During a year that he describes as “a whirlwind,” he logged 14.5 tackles for loss, was named Coastal Carolina Defensive Player of the Year, and earned first-team All-Sun Belt recognition. He attributes his success to the influences around him.

“I had some really good mentors. Tarron Jackson, he was always my partner in crime, and I felt like I had to catch up to him. So, if I saw him doing some weights, I’d put on a five or something to make sure I was doing more than him. I never really knew how good I was doing because I was always trying to catch up to him, C.J. Brewer, and all the other older guys. They paved a good road and I just followed.”

On his return from NC State in 2020, the Chanticleers embarked on a sensational season that saw them achieve national attention. While Gunter initially was “just excited to be back with the boys,” the season developed into something far more special.

“The season, it was like a fairy tale. You know like in Rudy where everything happens like it’s supposed to, that’s how it felt. I felt like I was in a Disney movie or something. Every game, we found a way to win. Battling through COVID with no one in the stands, you really had to bond together as a team. I love those guys. I wouldn’t trade that year for anything. That was probably the best year of my life.”

Gunter is a versatile defensive prospect in the NFL Draft

Although he could have declared for the 2021 NFL Draft alongside teammate Jackson, Gunter wanted to return to Coastal Carolina to win a bowl game. With that goal achieved following the Chanticleers’ Cure Bowl victory, he decided to make the leap to the NFL. In doing so, he earned an invite to the East-West Shrine Bowl, describing the experience as being “like a kid in a candy shop, like football heaven.”

“Little fine detail points,” Gunter talks through what he learned in Las Vegas. “At the next level, everybody is big, everybody is strong, everybody is fast. But, if you can master the details, hand placement, having your eyes in the right places, knowing where to look when you’re taking on a blocker, things of that nature. They taught me some small details that I feel like give me a leg up, a better chance of getting on the field at the next level.”

Those finer details, alongside the special-teams experience, should help Gunter in his quest to see the field at the NFL level. However, the Coastal Carolina defensive prospect has another bow in his arrow. Where versatility is next to ability, there may be fewer better equipped to make an early impact from anywhere across the defensive front seven.

“The big thing I’m selling is versatility. I’ve played everything from a 4i to a Wide 9 to outside linebacker. I was able to play 3-tech, 1-tech, but also able to show that I can play defensive end at a high level. Just being able to show I can do everything on the D-line,” Gunter commented on what he showed the NFL at the Shrine Bowl.

Gunter is on the verge of achieving his NFL dreams

“Whatever the team needs me to play, that’s my best alignment,” Gunter laughs when I ask him where he sees himself playing at the next level. He talks about “length and strength to set good edges in the run game,” showcasing that he can play defensive end at the NFL level. While he acknowledges that there’s room for improvement as a pass rusher, there are many reasons to select him in April.

“I feel like my potential is through the roof. You’re not going to have to worry about me off the field. I’ve never gotten in trouble in my life. You’re not going to waste any money on me. This is the sport that I love, and I can do a lot of things on the football field. I feel like I can be one of the greats.”

15 years ago, a young kid in North Carolina sat in front of NFL Network dreaming about playing in the league. On the verge of realizing his dream, Gunter knows that he’s in a rare position. Not many people get to grow up to fulfill their childhood ambition. More importantly for the Coastal Carolina prospect, not many get the opportunity to pay back the ones that supported them in getting there.

“Just being able to take care of my mother, provide a good example for my little brother, that would mean the world. It’s everything to me, and I just get excited thinking about it.”

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