'I already saw this coming': Sean Bunting's inner circle reflects on his underrated journey to NFL
Sean Bunting left his basement without making a noise. After quietly receiving a phone call from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, he returned back to his spot on the couch.
Silence filled the room, and Bunting knew what was coming with the Buccaneers on the clock. Family and friends gathered around the television, watching intently for what might happen next.
Just like that, Tampa Bay publicly announced Bunting as the No. 39 overall pick in the 2019 NFL Draft.
Bunting, a boy turned into a man, began crying in his mother's arms.
"We made it, we made it, we made it," Kim Murphy repeated while embracing her son with a hug.
Teammate, roommate and best friend Da'Quaun Jamison jumped in the air to showcase the big moment on Snapchat. Bunting's brothers – Gregory Madison, Martice Bunting and LeCarlton Estell – cheered enthusiastically, as if the whole neighborhood could hear.
Friday was officially Bunting’s night. He now holds an accomplished dream that nobody can take from him.
He’s an NFL player.
A second-round draft pick, nonetheless.
Bunting's journey has been far from typical. The football star who cried tears of joy on April 26 as the newest member of the Buccaneers never had it easy. He didn't have a single Division I offer on 2015 National Signing Day and was a zero-star prospect.
He took a late grayshirt offer from Central Michigan and enrolled in January 2016, nearly a full year after members of his graduating class signed to their respective colleges. Bunting will be the first to admit he couldn't do it alone.
"It means everything to me," Bunting said. "It's bittersweet knowing how much support I have and will continue to gain."
While most on the outside looking in doubted him, his inner circle knew the day would come. In the eyes of his parents, siblings and friends, Bunting always had what it took.
Even though Friday night was all about Bunting, it meant something extra special to those close to him – the people who always believed. When Tampa Bay used its 39th overall pick on Bunting, the underdog journey was finally complete.
'I already saw this coming at 9 or 10 years old'
Bunting's father, Maurice Bunting, said his son was reckoned to be an NFL player years ago. He rarely crawled, never took a nap and was always on the move, quickly earning him the family nickname, "Tank Man." He set his goals early and went for the prize.
He was also a three-sport athlete at Chippewa Valley High School, playing football, basketball and baseball. With his skill set and tenacity to pursue his dreams as a child, Sean developed himself into a standout athlete.
"This is important to me, but I already saw this coming at 9 or 10 years old," Maurice said. "He's always prepared himself. In the big games, he always performed on a high level because of his passion. It's just something he's got inside him that makes him want to be better. You can't teach that."
When Maurice saw his son go No. 39 overall to the Buccaneers, he wanted to jump through the roof, but he stayed under control despite being tempted by his emotions. One time, Maurice got kicked out of the gym because referees weren't calling fouls fairly in his son's basketball game. That's the kind of energy he brings, but now it's all business.
As a junior and senior in high school, Sean stepped up in games against arch-rival Dakota High School. He did the same for CMU, even locking up Michigan State wide receiver Felton Davis III in the 2018 season.
Maurice said Sean knew how to shut down Davis four months before the game occurred on Sept. 29 because he studied film to learn what was going to happen.
Sean defended Davis with outside leverage near the eight-yard line. The top Big Ten Conference receiver was forced outside but eventually leaned back in, and Sean allowed him to do so. As quarterback Brian Lewerke released the football into the end zone, Sean slipped inside Davis and secured the ball for an interception.
"He already had him on his radar," Maurice said. "Sean is a research person. He does everything to break down an opponent, so he already knew what Lewerke was going to do with that weak pass. He set it up. You fake outside, go inside. Sean was already going inside. He knew because he watches film."
While Maurice puts his focus into the on-field game, Murphy uses her abilities as a certified counselor to provide mental and emotional support for her son. In high school, she spent countless car rides cooling him down after camps where Sean struggled to receive national attention from Division I coaches.
She's been to every game and practice, never skipping a beat. Murphy gave up her personal and social life so Sean and her other sons could succeed.
"My kids are my life, so to see his dream come true, I knew it back when he was 4 years old," Murphy said. "He had something special, and God just told me to keep working with him, talking to him and reminding him our path is directed."
Before every football game, camp, combine, workout and interview Sean attended, his mother sent the same text message: "Soar on wings like eagles." The phrase is taken from Isaiah 40:31 in the Bible.
When Sean was a senior in high school, the football moms put together a book to commemorate the team. Each player's section contained a small note and a few pictures, but Sean's was different. It had a "later" picture that featured an NFL football player, a testament to Murphy's knowledge that her son would make it to the top.
"People need to see that because I knew my son could do this way back then," Murphy said. "If you have faith, you can do whatever."
For a handful of months after Sean declared for the NFL draft, Murphy's eyes were glued to social media. She wanted to see what the experts were saying in order to project where her son might end up.
That didn't go well, as most had him in the fifth to seventh round in original mock drafts. Murphy jumped off social media once she met Sean's agent out in California. He told her to relax and trust the process.
A week before the draft, Murphy got back on Twitter and Facebook. Her son was projected as a top-40 pick by a few analysts – just like Sean's agent said.
"That's my rock," Sean said of his mother. "To see a smile on her face is all I can ask for. I'm grateful for her and everyone that's pushed me to be here today."
Sean's father believes his son will bring passion, relentlessness, toughness and an unwillingness to lose when he arrives in Tampa Bay on May 9. Playing against quarterbacks Drew Brees, Cam Newton and Matt Ryan in the NFC South, Maurice said greatness is coming.
Even a spot in the Football Hall of Fame.
"When it's all said and done, Sean will be one of the elite corners in the NFL. Period," Maurice said. "It won't take long. I expect a gold jacket out of Sean. He knows my expectations are way up, and we don't have to talk about it. I haven't seen him fail at nothing yet."
'He made a path, and it's a good one to follow'
Walking around school throughout the past few weeks, friends of LeCarlton Estell, 12, often asked him if Sean was really his big brother. Of course, everyone in Clinton Township was well aware a product of their city was set to be drafted on Friday.
"I'm really excited to go back to school and talk about it," Estell said. "He's been wanting to go to the NFL for a long time. Hard work pays off."
Estell is much like Sean, as he plays football, basketball and baseball. Right now, he's focused on making it to the MLB and has three home run balls to his name. He plays center field and third base.
Even though Estell has a long way to go until his name gets called, he's overjoyed for Sean's moment – and plans to visit him as much as possible in Tampa this season.
Martice Bunting is a 17-year-old wide receiver signed to play college football at Division II Saginaw Valley State University. He's also the younger brother of Sean, meaning there's an underlying underdog mentality already embedded into his brain.
"We're both underrated, and it is what it is," Martice said. "I'm just ready to work. It makes me take it to a whole new level and grind 20 times harder."
In Chippewa Valley's 31-30 victory over Clarkston in the 2018 MHSAA Division I championship game, Martice caught two touchdowns passes from quarterback Tommy Schuster.
Once Sean got back from the Scouting Combine, Martice began predicting Tampa Bay as his future destination. He was right on the money, noting his older brother always wanted to play somewhere warm. Sean wanted to play with Jacksonville Jaguars cornerback Jalen Ramsey, but Martice said he "knew that wasn't going to happen" since Ramsey doesn't play for the Buccaneers.
Martice said Sean's win at all costs mentality will guide him to success in the NFL. Sean has always been his top mentor, but he never shied away from pushing him around.
One instance took place about seven years ago when Martice was 10 and their youngest brother was five years old. The group of boys was running through the mud, and Sean was determined to win.
"He pushed (Estell's) face in the mud, my little brother," Martice said. "I've taken that with me. I hate losing. (Sean) made a path, and it's a good one to follow. He can help me be the best."
Then there's Gregory Madison, the oldest brother that was at Sean's watch party. He didn't say much, but his value is undoubtedly the most important to the now Tampa Bay cornerback's growth. Since Gregory, 25, is a few years older, he toughened Sean up and got him ready for the long, strenuous journey to the top.
"He's showed me for my entire life that if I work hard for something, I can always get it," Sean said of Gregory.
Like his younger brothers, Gregory played football for Chippewa Valley. He wore No. 3 – Sean did the same.
"I was great," Gregory said. "I instilled so much in my little brother about being on the right track, loving the game and enjoying it. It was a trickle-down effect, and it means a lot to me.
"I knew my brother had it in him."
'He treats the coach and janitor the same'
Bunting's core group of family members has a handful of true friends to go hand-in-hand, and that group includes Da'Quaun Jamison and Braheem Crews.
Crews does not play football for CMU, but Jamison is a safety expected to lead the secondary for the Chippewas in 2019 under new coach Jim McElwain.
Jamison is much like Bunting, as he was also a grayshirt when he arrived in Mount Pleasant. The duo, who consider each other as brothers, spent countless late nights talking about making it to the NFL.
More than anything, Bunting's draft night gave the former Lee County High School star a belief that he too can make it to the NFL despite the odds stacked against him.
"For him to get it done, it's more motivation than ever for me," Jamison said. "At the same time, it shows you have to play the hand you're dealt. It's just crazy, life-changing."
To this point in his Chippewa career, Jamison has 75 tackles, four tackles for a loss, one interception, eight passes defended, one fumble recovery and two forced fumbles.
Crews met Bunting and Jamison through a mutual friend two summers ago, all tied together through NBA 2K, a popular basketball video game on PS4 and Xbox One.
His friend took him over to Bunting and Jamison's place and the trio clicked immediately through the competitiveness over the video game. Before he knew it, they all lived together.
"They were just really genuine people to me," Crews said. "They'd have football in the morning, afternoon and I'd have work, but I would come over in the evening and we'd play from 4 p.m. to 1 a.m. on a back-to-back basis.
"That's really how I became friends with them."
Even though Crews wasn't on the sidelines with Bunting, he's said the cornerback's composure is something he believes will translate well to the NFL. The best way Crews said he can describe Bunting is that he treats the head coach the same as the janitor. That's just the way Bunting operates.
Bunting's NFL draft moment was special for everyone involved. As a second round pick, he's expected to contribute as a starter or backup immediately. For him, it's an opportunity to prove he's deserving of more than just a spot on a roster.
"I'm just grateful to be able to say a dream of mine has been accomplished, but not all of them," Bunting said. "We still have a lot of work to do."