John Hughes played football at Lincoln High School in Gahanna, Ohio just a hair over 12 miles away from The Horseshoe that is Ohio Stadium. Despite being less than a twenty minute drive from his hometown, Hughes never went to a Buckeye game at the famed stadium.
He took visits to Ohio State, and saw some bowl game practices there, but ended up going to Cincinnati to play college ball before the Browns picked him in the third round of the 2012 NFL Draft.
Friday night, Hughes’ family won’t have far to go to see him and the team scrimmage at Ohio Stadium in Columbus.
“It’s nice, I got a lot of people coming to the scrimmage, a lot of family and friends coming to support me and the team,” Hughes told The OBR on Wednesday.
After a player is drafted, there usually tends to be one player, one veteran that shows them the ropes and how to be a professional. For John Hughes that player was Ahtyba Rubin.
“Ahtyba Rubin was my role model on and off the field. He taught me a lot,” Hughes said with a smile. “He taught me how to be a professional. Taught me little things to work on my game that helped me out a lot over the years and I really appreciated that.”
Rubin, a Brown for seven seasons, signed a one-year contract to play for the Seattle Seahawks back in March.
Now a four-year veteran, Hughes finds himself in a similar mentor role as new, young defensive linemen have been brought in-- guys like Danny Shelton and Xavier Cooper.
“I see that happening with me, kinda really just teaching the stuff that Rube (Ahtyba Rubin) taught me over the years, and helping them out. Trying to help the next man because without the next man we’re not going to make it as a team. We always say you’re only as strong as your weakest link, so you try to bring everybody up.”
The team is hoping that the weakest link in that d-line group is strong enough to help stop the run and put pressure on opposing quarterbacks. On paper at least, that group looks like a good one with returning starters and a high draft pick in Shelton.
As for Hughes’ role in the defensive line room, he is open to whatever the Browns ask of him.
“Really, I want to make the team better and fit in wherever I can fit in. If that’s a second team role, stepping up for a starter role, it’s whatever I can do to make the team better. Being in Cleveland and knowing what this team means to everyone here in Cleveland I just want to be able to win, so I’ll do whatever it takes to win.”
Hughes certainly understands the sting of losing in Cleveland. Since his arrival in 2012, the team has dropped 32 games. They have won at least one more game than the previous season in each of his years as well, which if it continues would mean the Browns finish the 2015 season with at least an 8-8 record.
For the Browns to be successful and have any shot at making the playoffs, the defense is what they are banking on to help carry them. That means having talent and depth, especially at a key spot like the defensive line.
Hughes will be part of a rotation that could include Phil Taylor, Desmond Bryant, Armonty Bryant, Randy Starks, Danny Shelton, Xavier Cooper, Ishmaa’ily Kitchen and Billy Winn just to name a few.
At training camp these players float in and out of the 11-on-11 scrimmages with the offense interchangeably. Sometimes Hughes is playing on the inside, sometimes he's on the outside of the tackle. Either way, all the linemen are getting time to play and contribute which could be close to what happens when the team takes the field for real.
“No one is mad about anything on the D-line, we all know that we’re going to get our time and when our time comes we have to make it count,” said Hughes. “So there’s no drop-off when the second team comes in or when a guy gets hurt and another guy needs to start there’s no drop-off. That’s what we pride ourselves on the D-line and our defense especially overall.”
Hughes believes this is easily the most talented defensive group he’s been a part of in his four-year career.
“Hands down. Just all over the board linebackers, DBs, outside ends and interior, it’s the best group I’ve been around.”
Hughes’ 2014 was a disappointment because of a nagging hamstring injury that limited him at the beginning of the season, and then of course an injury to his MCL that caused him to miss weeks nine through sixteen. Hughes surprised many fans and possibly even his coaches by returning to start the final game of the season.
“I was about 90% I’d say. I had the brace on, so I’m not gonna say 100,” Hughes said of his return for the finale. “It was one of those things I wanted to come out and show them that I didn’t lose a step from my injury. It’s not something they needed to worry about.”
It evidently was enough for the Browns to offer Hughes a four-year contract extension in March.
“It was a blessing to say the least. I was just really happy that the Browns had a lot of belief in me to come out and do my job. They saw me the past three years and they know what I have, It was a down year for me of course with my injury, but they knew what I was capable of and they were willing to extend my career here in Cleveland.”
That gives Hughes another four seasons to do whatever he can to help the Browns become a winner.