Colts First-Round Defensive End Hughes Grew Up Dreaming of Playing Running Back
INDIANAPOLIS – Jerry Hughes never imagined it. Not like this, anyway.
Not that Hughes, the Colts' first-round selection in the 2010 NFL Draft, didn't have NFL aspirations. He had the same hopes and dreams of the friends with whom he grew up playing and many other kids who grew up dreaming the dream.
But defensive end? Pass rusher?
No, Hughes said, that wasn't his dream.
When Hughes, who played collegiately at Texas Christian University and who last week the Colts made the No. 31 overall selection in the first round of the 2010 NFL Draft, was a kid – and right up until he left high school to go to TCU – his dream was more offense-oriented.
He dreamed of carrying the ball. And for a while, he did it well.
"As a kid I never pictured myself playing defensive end," Hughes said last week, a day after he became the first defensive end selected by the Colts in the first round since 2002, when they selected Dwight Freeney from Syracuse University number eleven overall.
"I always grew up playing a running back spot. Once I made that transition to college playing defensive end, it's something I really pushed myself toward."
Hughes didn't just play running back, he starred there.
Hughes, who played high school at Fort Bend County (Texas) Stephen F. Austin High School, rushed for 1,412 yards as a senior there, earning Class 5A honorable mention honors. He also rushed for 19 touchdowns and had 215 yards and three touchdowns receiving.
He also was a first-team All-District selection, not only as a running back, but as a kick returner.
"When all the boys are little, they say they want to play in the NFL," Hughes' mother, Pam, said last week. "When Jerry went to college, with him changing positions – he was a really good running back in high school – we didn't know how he would pan out as a defensive end. Nevertheless, you go supyour child.
"We never realized it would turn into him being the type of defensive end that would lead the nation in sacks."
Hughes, who also played baseball in high school, originally was recruited to TCU as an athlete, meaning Horned Frogs coaches had options deciding where to play him.
"They put the emphasis on me being recruited as an athlete," he said. "I had some idea I'd be changing my position. I just didn't know where. I saw it as a new challenge. What they told me was I was going to be recruited as an athlete. I saw it as a challenge, where they were going to put me out there and I was going to go out and play the position and to the best of my ability."
When he arrived at TCU, coaches moved him to defensive end.
"I was a little shocked at first," he said. "I thought they were going to red-shirt me, but they sat me down and told me they were going to try me out at defensive end. I thought, 'OK, cool. How can I get out there on the field?' That's the next question I asked."
Hughes played sparingly as a true freshman, registering three tackles and a sack in 10 games, and although he played all 13 games as a sophomore, he registered just one more sack.
It was the next season that Hughes said his career turned.
And it turned in a hurry.
Hughes moved into the starting lineup and not only started, he quickly became one of the nation's elite pass rushers. He finished the season leading the nation in sacks with 15, earning consensus All-America honors. He also forced six fumbles and had 19.5 tackles for losses.
"That's when everything kind of clicked for me," he said. "I was able to understand the position. I've still got a lot more to learn, though."
Toward that end, he said the Colts are the ideal team. He said when he moved to end upon arriving at TCU, he devoted much time to studying elite NFL pass rushers. Among his favorites was Colts defensive end Dwight Freeney.
"I liked Dwight because me and him are kind of similar," Hughes said. "Whenever he was on TV Sunday nights, Sunday afternoons, I'd always tune in to see what he does out there.
"That's kind of somebody I tried to model myself after."
One move of Freeney's Hughes said he admires is one he hasn't quite mastered. Then again, few have mastered the spin move that many considered the trademark move of Freeney's five-time Pro Bowl career.
"I have to work on that spin," Hughes said, adding with a laugh, "He has a pretty nasty spin. That's something I need to work on and it might take me a while, but that's something I plan on adding to my repertoire."
Enough of a fan of Freeney's is Hughes that when the Colts played the Saints in the Super Bowl he watched with more than a passing interest. Freeney did not practice for the two weeks leading to the game because of an ankle injury, then returned and had a first-half sack in the Colts' Super Bowl XLIV loss in South Florida.
"When he went out there and performed as he did, I was excited," Hughes said. "I was upset they lost, but at the same time, I was excited he's out there playing – just the way he uses his speed and the way he uses it to be successful – power rushing moves, then that deadly spin he has."
All of those things, Hughes said are things he aspires to have, and things he will work to obtain. Because Hughes said what he mostly wants in the NFL is the same thing he wanted when he went to college – to find someway to contribute, to make plays and to find some way to play.
That, he said, was why although he wanted to play running back, he made a transition that eventually ended up with an opportunity he wanted all along.
"Initially, I was little bummed out because I grew up playing the running back position," Hughes said. "At the same time, the next question I asked was, 'How can I get out on the field?' They told me I had a great opportunity of doing that. I was all for it, just getting out on the field and playing football."