Noah Hughes was rolling right along in his freshman season at Mississippi State.
The right-handed reliever was beginning to establish himself out of the Bulldogs’ bullpen over the first month-plus of the season until an injury and subsequent Tommy John surgery changed the course of his year completely.
“The week before I’d pitched against Georgia and my arm felt a little funny,” Hughes said. “It wasn’t really an elbow problem but the very first pitch against UT Martin I felt a little pop in my elbow. I pretty much knew right then and there what it was.”
Hughes had the procedure on April 14 and faced a rehab varying anywhere from 10 to 18 months. While on the shelf, he could only watch as his teammates won the Southeastern Conference regular season championship for the first time in his lifetime.
“It was really tough and I got down a little bit,” Hughes said. “I went from being an athlete all my life to suddenly I’m hurt and can’t really do much except be a student and watch from the sidelines. But I had faith in all of my friends and teammates that they’d go out there and do the best job they could. I’m really glad I was a part of that team.”
The 6-foot-1, 190-pounder was recently cleared to start playing catch again. Hughes just concluded his second week of throwing from 45 feet.
“I really think the rehab process has gone well,” Hughes said. “I’ve been on track the whole time. I’m hoping to get back in time for the spring. But it’s one of those things where we’ll see further down the road how my body takes it.”
Hughes believes the challenges he faced as a freshman will only benefit him whenever he is able to return to the rubber.
“I feel like the experience is going to help a whole lot,” Hughes said. “I already know what it’s like to step on that mound against a Vandy or Georgia. I’ve taken in the atmospheres so I really know what to expect, how to feel out there and what I need to focus on.”
The Jackson native appeared in eight games this past spring. Hughes held an 8.22 earned run average and notched a save while striking out six and walking four in 7 2/3 innings.
Hughes made his collegiate debut on opening night against Florida Atlantic. He thought he would be prepared for all the atmosphere at Dudy Noble Field had to offer but the firsthand experience was even more than he imagined.
“Having seen a lot of games here, you’d think I’d be prepared for it,” Hughes said. “But once you step on that field with 10,000 fans there, it’s a completely different experience. At first it’ll take over you but it’s one of those things you have to sink in and get out of your system because you have to go in there as focused as possible. Really that was one of the best experiences that I’ve ever felt, just going out there with 10,000 fans screaming and ready to see you throw the ball.”
Hughes’ repertoire features both a two and four-seam fastball along with a slider and circle change. He was a Louisville Slugger All-American in high school sporting a flawless 12-0 record with a 1.38 ERA and 112 strikeouts in only 76 innings as a senior.
However, Hughes had to make a few minor adjustments once he reached the collegiate level.
“Going from high school to college, you just had to be a lot more mentally prepared,” Hughes said. “You have to focus a lot more. Really the jump was really big going from high school hitters to college hitters. But I felt like the school that I went to, Jackson Prep, really helped me prepare for everything that I could face up here.”
Hughes garnered scholarship offers from not only MSU but Alabama and Ole Miss as well. He initially held an allegiance to the Rebels but a few visits to Starkville helped sway him towards the Diamond Dogs.
“Growing up my family was huge Ole Miss fans,” Hughes said. “I’d never really thought much about State but the first time I really came here I was taken away by the field and the fans. Pretty much from then on I started leaning towards Mississippi State and every time I came back, I’d fall more and more in love with it.”