Has Huff Assembled A Thorpe-Winning Season?

As long as he can remember, SS Michael Huff has taken apart electronic gadgets simply because he enjoys "seeing how things work." Now, the four-year starter has broken down enough offenses, and has made plenty of electrifying plays on one of the stingiest Texas secondaries ever assembled, to have a shot Thursday at becoming the program's first Thorpe Award winner.

"If we weren't doing so well as a team, I probably wouldn't get as much recognition," Huff said of the possible recognition as the nation's top DB. "I think of it more as a team award than anything. But it shows the hard work these past four or five years has paid off. I've stayed focused, stayed out of trouble and did what I had to do. Hopefully, it will pay off."

Huff departed Wednesday for Orlando, the host city of the annual college football awards banquet that is slated for an ESPN national broadcast. Huff returns Saturday to Austin but, until then, no phone or TV set in his hotel room is safe. After all, old habits die hard.

"When I was a kid I would break stuff and put it back together," he said. "I would take apart my parents' telephone. I like seeing how gadgets operate."

These days, the Professor Gadget of the Longhorn defense has dis-assembled his personal computer, television set and Xbox game consoles just to satisfy his innate curiosity.

"Sometimes they work again; sometimes they don't," he laughs.

The hobby is not dissimilar from his on-the-field approach to dissecting opposing offenses. Before the snap, Huff's need-to-know includes discerning if a guard may be pulling or if a receiver may be telegraphing his route. It has translated into one of the most statistically impressive careers in Division-I football. With five scores, Huff has produced the most touchdowns by a DB in Texas history. The most recent was his 21-yard fumble return for TD against Rice last September. His four career INT returns for TD are also a school record and two shy of the NCAA mark. Huff's first-quarter forced fumble in the Big 12 Championship Game was his fourth this season, sixth of his career, and set the tone for the 70-3 shellacking of Colorado last Saturday.

The first-team All-Big 12 selection has seven career INTs, but roommate FS Michael Griffin has teased Huff mercilessly for notching but one INT during the 2005 campaign. (Part of that good-natured ribbing stems from the fact that Griffin has two picks and is the team's leading tackler with 116 stops.) Yet, Griffin showed his roommate some love this week in stating Huff's case for the Thorpe Award.

"Ever since I've been here, he's been doing great things," Griffin said. "Every game, you don't know what to expect. It used to be that he returned an interception for a touchdown. Now, he's causing fumbles, returning fumbles and doing it all. You never know what to expect from him."

Co-Defensive Coordinator Gene Chizik's scheme leans heavily on the DBs for run-support and has dialed up safety blitzes more than at any time during eighth-year coach Mack Brown's tenure. Part of the result is that Huff has posted a personal best 97 tackles this season, up 24 from last season and trailing only Griffin.

Huff has 13 PBU this season and 44 for his career (No. 7 on Texas' all-time list). He has also been credited with nine TFL, two QB sacks and blocked a FG at Oklahoma State. Yet, Huff's contributions aren't always quantifiable. At BCS-bound Ohio State, for example, Huff primarily matched up against explosive Buckeye WR Ted Ginn Jr. and held him to nine yards on two grabs. Likewise, he shut down former Oklahoma WR Mark Clayton in 2004, limiting the All-American to 19 yards on three receptions,

The ESPN College Football Awards Show airs at 6 p.m.

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