Once thought a question mark, Jerry Hughes punctuated ‘08 with emphasis.
By Rick Waters '95
Jerry Hughes heard the talk all summer. With the Frogs graduating all-conference performers Chase Ortiz and Tommy Blake, his defensive end position was one of the biggest question marks for TCU in 2008.
Even his head coach Gary Patterson at the start of the season admitted he didn't know how big an impact Hughes and fellow defensive end Matt Panfil would have.
Hughes had an answer from the first game: six tackles (1.5 for losses), a forced fumble, a fumble recovery, an interception and a sack, all in a win at New Mexico.
Hughes has kept up the impressive numbers all season. He leads the nation with 14 sacks and is second with 17.5 tackles for loss. He's a candidate for the Bronko Nagurski Trophy, which is given yearly to the nation's best defensive player, and the Walter Camp Award, given to the best overall player.
"I don't think anyone could imagine the consistency that he has had this year," Patterson said during the season. "He's having as good of a season as anyone in the history of that position at TCU.
"A defensive end that has two interceptions, has caused fumbles and recovered fumbles, and 14 sacks?" Patterson continued. "The sacks are usually there, but then you add in the other stats. It's an incredible individual season."
The quiet Hughes says he's just doing his part for a defense that is No. 1 in the nation in rushing yards allowed and total defense. The Frogs hold opponents to 218.6 yards and 10.9 points per game.
"I play a role, but it's the whole team that's won games," he said. "We've just worked hard and tried to be aggressive."
Hughes is the latest in a series of players Patterson has moved from high school offensive stars to defensive stalwarts. He gained 1,412 yards and 19 touchdowns at tailback for Fort Bend Austin High School, good enough to draw recruiting consideration from Missouri, Arizona State and others.
But TCU saw something no one else did. With his tailback speed, Hughes could outrace offensive linemen to the quarterback. It helped that Ortiz and Blake made a similar transformation.
"I saw what the coaches were saying with them when they were ahead of me," Hughes said. "I could visualize myself doing what they were doing."
Hughes added 50 pounds of bulk since joining the Frogs but still has been clocked with a 4.5-second time in the 40-yard dash.
"Jerry's a tremendous athlete," Panfil said. "A lot of people don't have what he has. Once he learned the technique of the position, the sky's the limit."
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