If the coaches had been told before the season that those two players would combine for 83 tackles, 29.5 tackles-for-loss, 19.5 sacks as well as two interceptions, seven forced fumbles and six fumble recoveries this year, they would have been satisfied. Senior defensive end Matt Panfil and junior end Jerry Hughes helped form one of the most menacing defensive lines in all of college football this season, following in the footsteps of recently departed standouts Tommy Blake and Chase Ortiz.
We knew what to expect out of Panfil this season as he started six games in 2007, spelling Blake for much of the season. He was a gritty player that seemed to always be around the football, whether it was dropping back in coverage or stringing a running back towards the sidelines to be gang-tackled. He definitely raised his play this season, even sealing the Frog's bowl win over Boise State by snatching a lateral from Broncos' wide receiver Jeremy Childs in the waning seconds.
But there was a wild card going into 2008. How would Jerry Hughes, a former running back, be able to fill the shoes of Chase Ortiz?
It's not that Hughes was a nobody before this season, as he had seen playing time in all 13 games a year ago, registering one sack. But to have one sack in 2007 and become an All-American in 2008, leading the nation in sacks with 15, is truly remarkable. Hughes has said that it has taken two years for him to just learn the position of defensive end. In other words, he is still a work in progress.
Now, the 6-2, 248 pound end is being listed as a potential first round pick in the upcoming draft by ESPN and Scouts Inc. draft expert, Todd McShay. While Hughes has said that he will stay at TCU for his senior season, nothing has been made official yet.
Tommy Blake had a similar situation going into his senior season, as pro scouts touted him as a potential first round pick in 2008. But personal issues hindered Blake and de-railed his senior season and shot at the pros. Hopefully Hughes understands what can happen to a player when too much pressure is placed upon them to dominate on the field and raise their draft stock high enough to make millions in the NFL.
For a defense that will lose 7 seniors, Frog fans can only hope that Jerry stays for his senior year. Another year in Patterson's scheme should only help Hughes realize his full potential. Teams already game-plan to stop him and his presence on a very young defensive line in 2009 could minimize the drop in production that many are expecting with the loss of Panfil, Vess and Moore.
As of now, Hughes has 17 career sacks, 2.5 sacks behind Ortiz for fifith all-time at TCU. By staying at TCU for his senior year, Hughes can blow past the stats set by his predecessor and carve his name into the Horned Frog record book as one of the best players in school history.
Helping the team reach a BCS game, something that has eluded the school in heartbreaking fashion, would be nice too.