Hughes had been coaching for three years as the defensive coordinator at Cass, allowing him to bring to his new job a detailed grasp of the team and staff, and that helped him start quickly to prepare the Colonels for their new pigskin era.
So far, he said, the transition has been smooth.
“Everybody’s been on the same page as far as expectations and goals. That kind of makes it seamless,” Hughes said. “You don’t have a lot of gaps when you’ve been kind of a cohesive group to begin with. Now, you just move forward and everybody understands what the long- and short-term goals are.”
The coach said that has helped spring practice, which ended with scrimmages that signaled to him things are off to a good start.
“It was a good spring. We had a lot of kids out,” Hughes said. “We were right around 100 kids.”
He said the youngsters responded well to coaching and have already begun learning their offensive roles.
“Luckily we had quite a few kids returning on offense,” he said. “They were a little more seasoned. They were able to pick up on what we were doing on that side of the ball. I thought the offense had a really nice spring. I think they have higher expectations for themselves.
“Defensively, we lost some kids, so some kids who backed up are now in more of a focal role. They picked it up well.”
Hughes said depth is an issue for the whole team and coaches are working to change that. “Our coaches all did a great job for us this spring as far as working with the younger kids and getting quality reps for them.”
He said the scrimmage provided good experience for players and also a guide by which they will be taught their positions.
“The scrimmage is important because we got a look at every single person on film,” Hughes said. “It’s easy to make corrections when they can see themselves on film and see what they’re doing.”
Hughes said a lot of young players participated.
“We had about 35 ninth-graders, which is great because there’s some really nice talent in that young group,” he said. “I think it was a positive experience for them. That’s what you want for them in the spring, that they have a positive experience. I saw a lot of excitement. The attitudes were tremendous. We didn’t spend any time dealing with anything that was not football-related. Effort was good.”
He said there are some talented youngsters suited up and he mentioned several.
“Evan Hinton, an eighth-grader, is a very talented young kid. It’s going to be good for him to come in and be a part of what [offensive coordinator Drew] Elrod is doing offensively. I think it’s going to fit him well. We had two young running backs that are both ninth graders that had a good spring, Anthony Beeman and Terry Berdin.”
The new head coach said the experienced players also showed promise.
“Trevor Lowe had a really good spring at quarterback,” he said. “Starting 10 games as a freshman really helped him as far as how relaxed he was, and he had such a good grasp of what we were trying to do offensively.”
He said others are stepping up.
“Aja Morris is a returning starter on the offensive line. He kind of spearheads that group,” Hughes said. “We’ve got two senior receivers in Walter Brown and Noah Stephenson who give us good experience and leadership on that side of the ball. We feel like each group on offense has a leader. That really helps.
“Defensively we lost some really good players, but we’ve got several good ones already there that will take on different roles. Our two linebackers, Noah Foley and Tyler McIntosh, both were starters at some point last year that now are taking on leadership roles. We’ve got two young defensive ends that are replacing starters from last year. Sean Long is a senior, had a really good spring. Very explosive. He was one of our bright spots defensively. We thought he was going to be pretty good but he had a really good spring. Edvonte Curtis is at the other defensive end spot. The two are replacing three-year starters, but we feel like as they continue to gain experience they are going to be very good high school players.
“In our secondary, we’ve got Boo Reed returning, along with Seth Hughes and Brett Gaddy. They give us experience.”
There’s also some offensive players who figure to contribute.
“Offensively I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention Chris Morton, who is returning. Chris does a little bit of everything for us. He’s dynamic when we can get the ball in his hands. We have to make an effort to make sure he has a chance to do the things he does with the ball.”
“A real surprise this spring starting for us is Dexter Wilkey. He’s playing one of the slot backs. We also have a freshman running back, Marcus Robinson, who had a really nice spring. We’ve got some young ones who are talented.
“We feel like we’re definitely headed in the right direction [and we need to] get them physically stronger and mentally tougher.
He said his coaching staff is pretty much set with one more addition expected. He said some will be in new roles.
“Shane McPherson has been promoted to assistant head coach. Coach Drew Elrod is continuing on as offensive coordinator. Jamey Gaddy is now the defensive coordinator. Coach Danny Fairbanks has moved from working with the offensive line to handling the wide receivers. Coach Brit Bunkley is now moved to the defensive line. Coach Phil Phillips works with the safeties.”
The coach said there will be some offensive changes. “Our goal is to be as balanced as we can be offensively,” he said. “We’re going to run the football. We are definitely going to make it a conscious effort. You have so much more as far as game management things that can be controlled if you are able to run the football, and we’re going to make sure we do that.”
The change in emphasis could get a boost from the Colonels’ line play.
“I feel like our offensive line has an opportunity to be very good,” Hughes said. “Coach McPherson, it’s his second year with that group and they know what’s expected of them, and I thought as a unit they worked really well together as far as all five understanding what needed to be done and getting it done. Again, depth is an issue and we need to continue to improve our depth there, but we feel good about where we are.”
Hughes said coaches are focusing on little things with the mindset it directly affects the big things. “I think accountability and understanding [are] what it takes to win,” he said. “Everybody talks about winning. Winning is a byproduct of a bunch of little stuff. If we can completely understand the process of those little things and they are held accountable for those little things, then winning will take care of itself.”