Memphis QB Has Big League Arm

One of the most interesting early developments in this young recruiting season has been the abundance of legitimate in-state quarterback prospects that have emerged.

Recently Inside Tennessee featured Smyrna gunslinger David Wolke, who is rated among the nation's top 10 QB prospects by Tom Lemming and is one of 50 signal callers invited to audition for the Elite 11 camp.

Although the other passing prospects from the state don't enjoy as lofty a status as Wolke, there are several that are drawing interest from Division I schools, including Tennessee which hopes to sign two quarterbacks in the Class of 2004.

A lesser known but highly intriguing QB UT is looking at is Will Hudgens of Memphis Ridgeway High School. Hudgens was on hand for Tennessee's senior camp last Saturday and demonstrated one of the stronger arms among a topflight group of passers that included Wolke and Missouri star Chase Patton.

"I liked it a lot," Hudgens said of his camp experience. "Everybody was real nice. I met a lot of people I didn't know. I met the kid from Smyrna, David Wolke. It was good meeting another quarterback from Tennessee. The coaches were real nice and there were a lot of good quarterbacks there."

At 6-4, 195, Hudgens measured up to the competition and he demonstrated an ability to make most of the throws. He wasn't as sharp or mechanically sound as some of the other standouts, a condition he attributed to rust and making the difficult transition from pitcher to passer.

"I hadn't thrown since the state championship game until I threw at Tennessee's senior camp," Hudgens stated. "It's hard to go from baseball to football but not as hard from football to baseball.

"Because I play baseball my mechanics aren't all together yet, but as soon as I get my mechanics together everything else will fall into place."

Hudgens isn't alone in that opinion, in fact, it's one he's formed from talking to college coaches that are impressed enough with his size, arm strength and record of success they are willing to work on the mechanics enough to plumb his considerable potential.

Despite being something of a diamond in the rough as a football prospect, Hudgens is a gem on the mound as well as at the plate. Blessed with a 92 mph fastball, he posted a 7-2 mark with a 1.60 earned run average and 92 strikeouts against only 23 walks as Ridgeway's ace. He also batted .470 with five home runs and 51 RBI and patrolled center field when he wasn't hurling heat. Ridgeway compiled a 33-4 mark behind Hudgens heroics and finished third in the state's Class 2A tournament.

"I want to play both sports in college," Hudgens said. "Our district isn't very strong so we don't get as many scouts at our games. I'm playing American Legion baseball this summer so hopefully I'll get some looks."

Pitching every fourth day with a Memphis area Legion team should be enough to gain the attention of college and Major League Baseball scouts, particularly given his rare velocity and ideal pitcher's physique. However he's also aiming to improve his chances to become a college quarterback.

"I'm going to Peyton Manning's camp this summer in Hammond, La., and to the Memphis senior camp on Saturday," he said. "Memphis, Tennessee and Ole Miss are my main interests. Those are the schools that have been calling. Middle Tennessee State is talking to me and Arkansas State is talking to me. I've got some calls from Alabama, too."

In addition to his physical skills and athletic ability Hudgens is a strong leader with an impressive bottom line. A starter since he was a freshman at Ridgeway, Hudgens has led the Roadrunners to three straight Class-3A playoffs, going deeper into the post season each year. Ridgeway went 11-1 when he was a freshman to reach round two of the playoffs and 8-5 as a sophomore reaching the third round. Last season he directed the roadrunners to a 14-1 mark and the state title. Now he's poised for a big senior season when he's expected to be turned loose to throw after averaging fewer than 10 passes per game as a junior.

"We don't throw the ball a whole lot but in the past we haven't had to," said Ridgeway head coach John Cooley. "We threw it 10 times in the state championship game, but this year we plan to throw the ball more. We've got a better balance as far as receivers go this year and more depth in that area. I think we'll throw it quite a bit more this year."

Last season Hudgens connected on 70-of-140 passes for over 1,100 yards and 14 touchdowns, numbers he could conceivably double as a senior. But in keeping with his priorities and position of leadership he's more concerned with the performance of his team.

"We should have a great team this year if our seniors step up as leaders," he said. "We're going up in classification to 4A from 3A and that will make it tougher."

In addition to his pigskin prowess and baseball brilliance, Hudgens also qualified for the state swim meet and served as Ridgeway High School's deep snapper when he was an eighth grader.

"He's an outstanding football player, very heady on the field, a lot of football mentality," Cooley said. "He gets along great with all the other players. He's done a great job for us ever since his freshman year.

"As an eighth grader he was our deep snapper. He could snap it so far and so quickly, he's probably the best deep snapper I've ever seen. He's a total athlete. He's a great baseball player, he's on the bowling team, He went to the state in swimming. He's just a great all around athlete."

In addition to playing sports Hudgens, who is fully qualified academically, likes to call games and aspires to become a sports broadcaster one day. He has taken broadcasting courses at Memphis and was scheduled to call the city basketball title game this year, but opted to compete in the state swimming tournament instead.

Hudgens, who is called "Wilbur" by his teammates, runs a 4.85 in the 40 but doesn't consider himself a rushing threat.

"I'm a straight drop back passer," he stated. "I can throw the ball 65 yards in the air. I think my strengths are that I'm aware of the game and have football savvy. I can play D-I it's just a matter of where I'm going to play."

Whatever questions exist about Hudgens, there is little doubt Wilbur is a winner.

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