Jamon Hughes keeps a loose grip on the past, because a tighter hold would only choke the possibilities of the here and now.
In the spring of 2008, he was a linebacker for Mississippi State. Then a couple of teammates fired guns in the air – nobody was injured – and Hughes was suspended from the team for being “indirectly” involved. He was readmitted to school that July and allowed to return to the team as a walk-on.
Hughes, with 82 tackles in 22 games under his belt, decided instead to transfer to Memphis.
When asked if he felt he was treated fairly by then-coach Sylvester Croom, Hughes said, “I feel like whatever happened was supposed to happen. … I just try not to look into the past, because I feel like the past is full of nightmares. So I just try to stay focused, straight ahead looking to the future and whatnot.
“I feel like everything was fair because right now everything is over with.”
After sitting out a season, per NCAA transfer rules, Hughes started 2009 as a key reserve and worked his way into the Memphis starting lineup nine games in. He finished the year with a team-leading 87 tackles to go with 5.5 tackles-for-loss, and he had 18 stops against Houston.
On Saturday, Hughes will face his old team. MSU hosts the Tigers at 6 p.m. on ESPNU.
Hughes, who’s from Rolling Fork, doesn’t anticipate his return to Scott Field being weird or tinged with sentiment.
“I don’t care about my old team. I don’t care if it’s Mississippi State or Hawaii,” he said. “I’m a gladiator. … I don’t see jerseys or faces, I just see opponents. And I play every game like it’s my last game.”
Hughes doesn’t care to talk about the gun incident, which saw felony charges brought against teammates Mike Brown and Quinton Wesley, who were kicked off the team.
“I wasn’t really on the scene,” Hughes said. “Just – it’s a long story.”
That incident came right on the heels of Hughes being arrested for DUI.
Hughes left behind some good friends, which made the decision hard. He remains in touch with center J.C. Brignone and linebacker K.J. Wright and a few others.
“We came in as freshmen, and he was really like one of my best friends,” Brignone said. “He was kind of more like a brother to me when we first got here.”
Hughes has found new brothers, which is the term he uses for his Memphis teammates. He said he was welcomed “with open arms” and had little trouble adjusting to his new environment.
“The move has worked out perfectly,” he said. “A lot of my teammates respect me. I just felt like I’m going to continue to be a good leader for the team.
“I feel like leaving Mississippi State was the best thing that ever happened to me.”
It’s worked out well for Memphis. From his middle linebacker position, Hughes brings an aggressive, instinctive approach to a team that ranked 11th in Conference USA – and 116th in the country – in total defense last season (457.5 yards per game) en route to a 2-10 finish.
“I’ve been playing this position since I was 12 years old,” Hughes said, “so that’s 10 years of playing linebacker. I can play aggressive because I see a lot of keys faster than a lot of guys.”
He’s playing for a new set of coaches, led by first-time head coach Larry Porter, who said Hughes has come a long way since the regime change.
“Throughout the summer, based on what I heard, it was a night-and-day difference between the spring and the summer,” Porter said. “He’s made a commitment not only to himself but to his teammates. He wants to be seen as a leader, so I’m very much excited about that.”
While Hughes prefers to leave the past in the past, he does learn from it. His departure from Starkville taught him the importance of good choices, although he didn’t say if he was referring to the gun incident or his decision to transfer.
Either way, he’s perfectly happy where he is.
“Everything happens for a reason,” Hughes said. “I believe it was meant for me to be sent here to Memphis with my brothers.”
Contact Brad Locke at 678-1571 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Brad Locke/NEMS Daily Journal