Nov. 12, 2011
By Megan Henderson
For most athletes, their sport is part of life. It is a way to learn life skills, meet new people and even pay for college. For senior defensive lineman John Hughes, football is his life.
The people in his life were what made him who he is today. Growing up in Gahanna, Ohio, Hughes was the oldest of five. He was a father figure to his brothers while his father was stationed in Germany in the Army. Raised by his grandparents, Hughes has had to learn responsibility and values quickly.
"I felt like I had a lot on my shoulders," Hughes said. "I had to help out my family as much as I could so one day they could have a better life. Not that we had a bad life to begin with, but my grandma definitely deserved more than she had."
He could have been a basketball player or a track star, but Bearcat fans can thank fate that brought him to Cincinnati.
"My `mom' [his grandmother] got me into anything she could to keep me busy," Hughes said. "Everything from little league basketball, football, boy scouts, deliver the newspaper. I even played violin for a little bit."
Thanks to his "mom" keeping him busy and out of trouble, the 22-year-old was a versatile athlete in high school, excelling in basketball, track and football. In fact, his senior year, he placed second in Ohio Division-I in the shot put event behind that year's record holder.
"I was on the track team in junior high because the girls told me I should," Hughes said. "When I got to high school, I was focused on football and basketball but my middle school coach found me at school and told me to try throwing. He was an inspiration to me so I agreed and I did alright."
Besides his grandmother, there was someone else that helped Hughes mature in his own household.
"My biggest hero in my life would definitely be my grandfather," Hughes said. "He taught me what it was to be a man."
Hughes' hero passed away his eighth grade year, but he never forgets how proud he wanted to make his grandfather in what he was best at - sports.
"Whenever I played sports growing up, he could never come to games because he was sick," Hughes said. "I would play well just in case he could come watch me. My mom would film the games and show him. All I wanted to do was make him proud."
The dedication and loyalty Hughes felt toward his grandfather was reciprocated.
"I remember sometimes I would be up at night outside and he would shine the lights on the basketball court and I would just shoot around just so he could see me play and tell me how good I was doing," Hughes said. "I just always wanted to make him proud and please him with my performance."
In high school, Hughes was also inspired by a teacher. He would go to class early to help this teacher out. Initially, he was a self-proclaimed "rock-head jock" - focusing only on excelling on the field, not in the classroom. This teacher, however, proved to provide Hughes with a piece of advice that has carried him through his college years.
"He told me that one day football is not going to carry me through life," Hughes said. "It was carrying me then, but that I really needed to stay focused on academics. I think that really helped me get through my senior year and all the way through college. People have told me that before, but for him to sit down and look me in the eye and tell me that meant a lot. Especially because I respected him and knew he cared about me and my future."
With so many people in Hughes' life that genuinely care about him and what happens in his life, it is no wonder that his future plans involve helping others.
"I came in being an education major," Hughes said. "But with the football schedule I knew I wouldn't be able to student teach so I switched right away to criminal justice. After researching the field a little more, I actually found something I would like to do. I'm minoring in diction studies and that combination will allow me to be some type of counselor or mentor. I worked at a correctional facility and the people there are the types of people that I want to help."
Recruiting was somewhat of a roller coaster ride, as it is with most college athletes.
"I actually got letters from Cincinnati, but I was already committed to Michigan State," Hughes said. "When (former head coach) Mark Dantonio left Cincinnati, he suggested I check out UC because he thought I might fit in better. I took a visit to Cincinnati a few days before signing day, loved it, and here I am.
Growing up in a Columbus suburb, he often gets asked about his allegiance to his hometown team.
"I was an Ohio State fan growing up and I thought that was my dream school," Hughes said. "I never really heard of Cincinnati as a football program until my junior year of high school. My biggest thing with picking a school was that I didn't want to be too close, but also not too far so I can see my grandma and the rest of my family when I can."
Between his grandparents, teachers, brothers, and Mark Dantonio, Bearcat fans have a lot of people to thank for John Hughes' presence in Cincinnati. The people throughout his years are the glue that holds him together. Ultimately though, football is the common denominator in all facets of his past and is the driving force of his life.
"I honestly don't know where I'd be without football," Hughes said. "The sport has taught me so much about networking, being a leader, communication, time management. It's made me more appreciative, too. The places I've been, I can't even begin to tell you. I've been to Hawaii, New Orleans and South Beach in four years. That is not something everyone gets a chance to do."