By Jared S. Hopkins, Chicago Tribune reporter
4:49 p.m. CDT, August 18, 2012
SAN ANTONIO— — Sam Hurd had settled into a rather anonymous life in his hometown.
He went fishing with his aunt.
He volunteered at a food pantry.
On some nights, he played flag football. It wasn't the NFL, but it was fun.
"Who wouldn't miss the NFL?" the former Bears special team player and wide receiver told the Tribune on a sun-baked afternoon the first day of August. "The life, the camaraderie with teammates, new people coming in, new opposition, new coaches."
A moment later, he chuckled: "Obviously everybody misses their check, too."
In December, Hurd's NFL career — one that had earned him a multimillion dollar contract and moved him from San Antonio's toughest neighborhood to comfortable suburban living — came crashing down when federal authorities arrested him on charges of trying to form a massive drug ring in Chicago.
The Bears cut ties, police impounded his Cadillac Escalade and Hurd sold his home in Texas.
More than seven months after that arrest — and eight days after speaking with the Tribune — Hurd, 27, was in handcuffs again. This time it was in San Antonio, for allegedly using drugs. While out on bail, he tested positive for marijuana in two urine tests. Records also show Hurd allegedly bought 30 pounds of marijuana while out on bail and tried a few weeks later to buy an additional 200 pounds, plus 5 kilograms of cocaine.
"Shock, surprise," said Joaquin Arch, who helped organize Hurd's youth football camps and trained with him at the YMCA recently. "It was definitely a blow. You get used to having him around."
His exit to Texas
Following his arrest in December, Hurd was indicted in January, along with another man. He returned to his home state to await trial on federal drugs charges.
And to, as he puts it, remain focused on community work and his family, to devote more time to raising his 2-year-old daughter and to reach out to San Antonio's underprivileged.
One of six children, Hurd grew up in San Antonio's gritty East Side, the city's roughest and poorest section where gangs and drugs are as common as boarded up businesses.
After starring at Brackenridge High School — a poster chronicling Hurd's football career greets players emerging from the locker room — Hurd shined for four years at Northern Illinois but went undrafted. He signed with the Cowboys, becoming a mainstay on special teams, staying five years. His charisma led to a gig co-hosting a behind-the-Cowboys television show, and he put on camps for kids and started a non-profit.
In July 2011, Hurd signed a three-year, $4.15 million deal with the Bears, including a signing bonus of $1.3 million. He played in 12 games, mostly on special teams, and caught eight passes for 109 yards.
When the Tribune spoke with Hurd this month, he pulled his black Mercedes with a cross dangling from the rear-view mirror into the parking lot of the San Antonio Food Bank. Hurd's trim, fit — and characteristically lanky — 6-foot-3 frame emerged. He opened his trunk, slipped off his Crocs and put on sneakers.
"I'm blessed man. I get to do more of my Father's work," he said, declining to discuss his case, which is set to go to trial on Oct. 9. "I can't be mad or nothing. Just hate the process, hate all this, hate that you even got to go through it. But you can't be frustrated. Go with it, take the punches"
He forged close friendships in the NFL with marquee players such as Terrell Owens and Marion Barber — a teammate with Hurd last season — yet Hurd said he isn't paying attention to training camps this season. He said he meets with neighborhood kids for informal football camps and occasionally plays flag football to "keep the rust off."
Having sold their Irving, Texas, home in January, Hurd and his wife — college sweetheart Stacee Green of Calumet City — stayed with Hurd's sister in a gated community in suburban San Antonio. Hurd is required to seek a job, and he worked for his sister, Jawanda Newsome, whose company assists autistic children. The food pantry said he had started volunteering a few days in late July.
"I don't ask for no recognition. Otherwise I could have a reality show as much as everybody else," he said. "Everybody can do that. That's not really doing it for the purpose of what He put us here for, what our Father put us here for. I don't need no recognition for me."
Shock and surprise has given to acceptance and disappointment on the East Side, a community where people regularly shrug off drug charges. Hurd's only previous brush with the law was a citation for driving without a license plate displayed.
While out on bail, Hurd stayed in contact with friends and saw family regularly. He told the Tribune he had just visited Barber in Minnesota. Hurd's aunt, Sue Perkins, said she and her nephew would go fishing and attend church. Shatone Powers, his college teammate and close friend, said he spoke with him daily.
"He brings (the case) up sometimes — just talking about how ... he probably shouldn't have loaned money to or given money to certain people in the past," Arch said.
Toby Lujan, indicted co-conspirator No. 1
Pro athletes have gotten busted with drugs plenty of times in the past. What makes Hurd's case so unusual is the alleged volume he sought.
In late 2011, Hurd told an informant and undercover officer at a suburban Chicago restaurant he wanted to buy five to 10 kilograms of cocaine and 1,000 pounds of marijuana each week to distribute — paying up to $250,000 for cocaine and $450,000 for marijuana. The agent gave Hurd a kilogram of cocaine and when Hurd got in his car, he was taken into custody, capping a six-month investigation.
Hurd was indicted with Toby Lujan, 27, store manager at a Firestone Complete Auto Care, just off the highway in Coppell, Texas.
The shop sits less than nine miles from the house Hurd and his wife bought in a gated community. According to Jacoby Lujan, Toby's brother, Cowboys players often brought their vehicles there for detailing.
It was here that Hurd met Toby Lujan, who grew up in nearby Garland. A hulking 6 feet tall, Lujan himself had played football in high school and seemed to be a clean-cut student. He had worked as a mechanic and salesman at other Firestone locations before becoming the manger in Coppell, according to records and interviews.
On July 27, 2011 — just a few days before Hurd signed with the Bears — police, acting on a tip, confiscated $88,000 from Hurd's Escalade while Lujan was driving the SUV alone, allegedly on his way to purchase drugs. Despite that encounter, according to federal agents, Hurd and Lujan continued talking to a police informant about buying drugs for distribution.
In September 2011, Lujan told the informant that because Hurd's football commitments made him unavailable to meet in person, Hurd's "cousins" would complete the drug transaction. A few months later, Lujan met the informant at the Firestone and outlined in detail how a transaction could be completed at the shop.