Liberty safety L:J Hunter finds support on football team after tragedy

  • liberty football helps save seniorsafety LJ Hunter after family tragedy

Every Friday night this high school football season, whenever Peoria Liberty senior safety LJ Hunter made a big play, Lora Critser would look up at the sky for the shiniest star and believe that was LJ’s mother watching him.

“I know she’s looking down on him, because she wouldn’t have missed any of this,” said Lora Critser, who is LJ’s grandmother and Angela’s mom.

Hunter has had the love of his family, teammates, the Liberty community and football to get him through most of his high school career since losing his mother on June 7, 2020, when he was getting ready for his sophomore season at Liberty.

Angela Critser was killed in a drive-by shooting in Phoenix. She was 38. Angela was with her husband at a gas station on that afternoon, when, according to Angela’s mom, there was an interaction between Angela’s husband and another person. That led them to them being shot at in their vehicle, Lora said.

Angela was struck by a bullet and died. The suspect was arrested and charged with first-degree murder. A trial is pending.

LJ was at a friend’s house when his mom was shot.

“It didn’t feel real,” he said.

It’s been an exhausting two years.

Liberty junior LJ Hunter smiles after their victory over Basha at Basha High School in Chandler, Ariz. on Friday, Nov. 26, 2021.

Thursday will mark the third Thanksgiving that LJ has spent without his mom. He’ll be surrounded by love and family. He’ll spend it at his grandmother’s. And he’ll probably wind up at teammate Anthony Ruiz’s home at some point. Ruiz leads the top-ranked Lions’ defense with 13 sacks.

They’ve grown up on football together, playing on the same youth team, the Bandits, since they were 5.

Since LJ lost his mom, football has been his salvation.

“Football was a big help,” he said. “It was a little bit of a struggle in the beginning. But my teammates came to me and got me through it all. That definitely helps me a lot. Takes my mind off of things.”

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