Instead Hughes spent his morning in Hoover saying things about the pending 2014 season. Including a whole lot of ‘yeses’ regarding the Mississippi State team in general and Bulldog defense in particular. Yes, says the senior safety here ten days before preseason opens, “We are excited” and with good reason after their fast finish to 2013.
”It’s always good to win, and we finished strong. Even though I was sitting out, looking at these guys finishing, we learned how to finish. Once you learn how to play all four quarters the road is yours to take.”
Of course Bulldog folk know well the irony in Hughes talking about playing ‘all four quarters’ again. He got to take just six defensive snaps all last season, his junior campaign ending almost as soon as it began to a devastating Achilles injury. For the rest of the schedule, as well as the Liberty Bowl, he was confined to the sidelines serving as something of a ‘coach’ to his fellow safeties…a role the son of position Coach Tony Hughes is surely suited for!
But after a limited spring, Hughes declares himself cleared for 2014 action.
“Oh I’m ready to go. I’m ready to go. I’m doing everything with the team, there hasn’t been anything I haven’t done as far as drills and weightroom, exercises. We’re doing drills almost every day, just working hard.”
Well and good that Hughes is convinced he is ready of body. What about the ‘mental rust’ from missing nearly a full year of game and practice action. No worries there either, Hughes said. “I feel like I’m both. I’ll play tomorrow.”
The season doesn’t kick off for another five weeks but one can appreciate Hughes’ eagerness to pull on game year right now. Of course there’s the minor matter of re-winning his strong safety job again, after Kendrick Market’s capable performance all 2013 as the un-scheduled starter. Hughes is equally confident he’ll rise to the top again in his senior August.
Just as he was confident he could handle his unexpected selection to talk on the SEC stage. Yes, it was just a little amusing to him how someone who saw so little action a year ago was representing his program. Then again it was quite a compliment, Hughes agreed.
“They trust me. They trust me, my teammates believe in me, my coaches believe in me and my ability. And they believe I’m a leader. I’m glad they chose me, I’ll forever be humbled by that.” And just maybe Hughes was picked because his coaches knew he wouldn’t say anything dumb from the stage? “That too!” he grinned.
If his own return to active status in time for the senior season weren’t enough reason for smiling, just asking about the 2014 Dog defense really lights Hughes’ eyes. Only end Denico Autry is missing from the Liberty Bowl starting lineup, remember, along with outside linebacker Deontae Skinner and safety Nickoe Whitley. They will indeed be missed by teammates and buddies, and goodness knows Whitley wrote a late-career chapter in program history with his game-saving plays against Arkansas and Ole Miss.
But filling those slots was taken care of in spring, and now Hughes himself returns to the active roster. Take all that combined experience from point-of-contact at the ball and the farthest-ranging cover guys in the secondary, evaluate the impressive collection of skills on the entire depth chart, and try not to get excited.
Actually what old Dogs like Hughes are trying to do is enjoy the excitement while keeping the club focused. So, he says, they are setting some pre-season objectives that should maintain camp intensity.
“We’re always looking to improve. We’re working, nobody is satisfied. Everybody has that look in their eyes on defense. It’s psycho defense.”
Right, the ‘psycho’ label given to this side of State’s locker room by the Madman in Chief, coordinator Geoff Collins. Those covering this club understand the idea but most of the conference press corps were fascinated by Hughes’ comment and demanded explanation.
“That means go nuts, lets’ get crazy. Lose yourself. It’s like the defense is bigger than you.” While, Hughes added, keeping just a little bit of lasso on the loonieness. “Play fast, know what you’re doing.”
And the senior safety knows what he wants done better this coming season. “We want to get more turnovers. The team that gets more turnovers wins the game and it’s really as simple as that. If we can get turnovers and put our offense in the right spot, week after week, we’ll be good.”
Truly though this group is already looking good, on preseason paper at least. It is greatness that could be within Mississippi State’s reach during the real season thanks to all the aforementioned experience and talent. And the latter category just got a big boost, Hughes said. The defensive players in Coach Dan Mullen’s 2014 recruiting class are first-class additions, such as linebacker Gerri Green and Hughes’ own favored newcomer Brandon Bryant. A defensive back, naturally. “Exactly!” Hughes grinned again.
And why shouldn’t he be smiling easy and often these days? Jay Hughes is about to get back on the practice field doing what he loves after the long layoff. That means the time for talking is nearly over…not that he minded the trip to Hoover.
“I liked it, man! I enjoyed myself. A lot of lights, camera, action. It was cool though, it was everything they said it would be.”