From junk hauler to ball carrier, Caleb Huntley embraces chance with Falcons

FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- If you had junk removed from your yard in the Greater Atlanta area last winter, an NFL player might have been the one disposing of it.

At the time, Caleb Huntley was trying to figure out a way to keep money coming in. As a member of the Atlanta Falcons practice squad last year, he didn’t know what his long-term future might be in a league often built around short-term careers.

And while practice squad money isn’t bad -- a minimum of $207,000 for the season -- NFL paychecks don’t come in the offseason, and no one knows when a career might end. As a parent of two young kids with his girlfriend, he searched for a financial solution.

Huntley, 24 and an Atlanta native, didn’t know then that he would be called up by the Falcons twice this season and -- after a breakout 10-carry, 56-yard, one-touchdown performance Sunday -- end up on the active roster. Then he was just trying to take care of his family.

“I knew the checks were going to stop coming in, but the money was still going to leave my account,” Huntley said. “So I had to figure out something to do to keep everything in balance.”

With that in mind, Huntley began “Huntleys Junkyard Junkies.” The junk-removal service started last January offering everything from appliance removal to cleaning up yards. He was the CEO ... and the employee removing the junk.

He created an Instagram account -- currently with 133 followers -- and used a social networking app to drum up business.

In around six weeks, he landed eight jobs. He cleared a massive yard in McDonough, Georgia, hauled away an old barbeque wearing an Atlanta Braves Freddie Freeman T-shirt jersey and cleared another property in Braselton, Georgia.

“Not only is it a way to make money, it’s a way to keep in shape,” Huntley said. “It’s labor, so I was getting a good workout doing it.”

The business, though, stopped fairly quickly. Huntley said a member of the Falcons’ organization who is no longer with the team told him he was no longer allowed to do junk removal because he could get hurt. He considered it a message sent down by Falcons coach Arthur Smith and general manager Terry Fontenot, so he stopped.

It wasn’t. Huntley said Smith sought him out Wednesday and told him it was not the case. He could continue doing it in the future, with a caveat. If he gets hurt, that’s on him.

Huntley, recounting the story, thought about the money lost but also said if he restarts the business he might not be as hands-on with the removal.

After Sunday, there is another, larger, stream of income to focus on.

TAMMIE LAMONS WAS on one knee in front of the TV in the family room, trying not to block the screen. Her husband, Lindsey, was on the couch, as were her two daughters. She didn’t want to get in the way.

But her son was on the TV, playing for the Falcons they all grew up watching. After Huntley’s first two carries, she FaceTimed his brother, Marcus, who was at work as a truck driver. They’d been there throughout Huntley’s journey from Locust Grove to Ball State to the Falcons’ practice squad and now actual, tangible playing time.

A year ago, Huntley watched Falcons road games from his mother’s house while he was on the practice squad. Now he as on the screen.

Lamons is an emotional person. Talking about the last week almost brings her to tears multiple times.

Huntley ran the ball 10 times. Marcus, through FaceTime, had a good view with a steady hand. Until Carry No. 8, when Huntley scored a 5-yard touchdown. Lamons screamed. Her daughters told her to calm down.

Not a chance.

“I’m jumping up and trying to run with him,” Lamons said. “I tried to contain myself.”

Marcus implored his mom to hold the phone still because her excitement created a jumbled mess. Lindsey Lamons was on the couch, excited but laughing at his wife.

Huntley had the first extended work of his career. It was enough of a performance that one of his closest friends who is also his trainer, Salahssie Donatto, spoke with him after and told him he was going to be signed to the active roster the next day. Huntley brushed him off, saying they would see Monday.

The Falcons signed Huntley on Monday. Lamons said her son was unsure how to react. Donatto knew; it had been what they worked toward for years.

“I always felt like I deserved to be in this league,” Huntley said. “But it was just a matter of having an opportunity to showcase that.”

THIS OFFSEASON, WHEN Huntley wasn’t clearing lawns, spending time with his family and operating his other side venture -- running an Airbnb with his girlfriend -- he was training. He and Donatto had a plan, knowing they needed to work on quickness and explosion.

They did pool work, water-resistance drills, lifted weights, running back drills on grass and sand and pushed and pulled cars.

Yes, some of Huntley’s work involved the movement of automobiles. This was no junk clearing. This would be any time, any place. Donatto remembered driving around and if they saw a challenging hill, Huntley told him to stop the car. Then Huntley got out and pushed the car.

“It’ll always be a little side street or something like that,” Donatto said. “A side street where there’s not a lot of traffic so it’s not bothering anybody.”

That Huntley would work like this is unsurprising. He always has been searching for the most economical and efficient way to do things. His mind is wired like that: He’s an idea man in business and everything else.

His Airbnb is a rented apartment in Midtown Atlanta he uses to bring in extra money through the limited liability corporation he has set up. When he was a kid, he and Marcus made a sign offering to pump bike tires for a quarter and 50 cents to change a tube in the bike. They started cutting grass -- Donatto would join them -- making anywhere from $20 to $60 a lawn.

“Caleb has always had that in him,” said Lindsey, a former Marine and long-haul truck driver. “Like he wanted to be his own boss, his own man. It’s something that, honestly, it’s kind of in his DNA.”

Back then, Huntley said he did it in part to try and help his family. Now, he’s doing it to create a life beyond football for whenever that ends. While his focus now is on the NFL and creating his primary career, he’s still thinking. In the offseason, he helps with Donatto’s car-detailing business.

And Huntley has his next big idea. He wants to buy a farm.

He researched land he’s interested in, knows the down-payment structure and is considering different acreages.

“Just like an agricultural farm where I grow different goods and stuff like that that people need,” Huntley said. “I know there’s a food shortage so I’ll try to do that and try to grow products that don’t have chemicals and all these extra added preservatives and stuff like that.”

Former junk hauler. Future farmer. Current running back on the active roster of his hometown Falcons. Even though he has worked much of his life, football has always been the dream career. The one he worked for.

And after Sunday, the one with more potential than ever before.