By Brad Locke/NEMS Daily Journal
STARKVILLE – Chris Hughes has a past filled with heartache and missteps. Last year alone was full of both for the Mississippi State junior linebacker.
Hughes was arrested in May on a third-degree assault charge. On June 17, his younger brother, Justin, was shot to death in their hometown of Mobile, Ala.
Hughes was arrested again Aug. 31 for misdemeanor domestic assault stemming from incidents in May. He spent five days in jail, and missed the first five games of MSU’s season because of an ensuing suspension and a groin injury.
His high school coach, Fred Riley, said Hughes’ troubles were a result of him coming back home and falling back in with the wrong crowd.
“The best thing or Chris Hughes is to be in Starkville and be in school and to have structure and daily accountability,” Riley said. “We all need that, but especially young people who have gotten out of a difficult environment, that when they come back to it, that environment pulls on them. When he’s in school, he does a good job.”
Riley said it’s the “football family” more than the game itself that has “probably saved his life.” When Hughes returned to Mobile last month over spring break and visited Riley’s office at Davidson High School, the coach said there was a noticeable difference in Hughes’ demeanor.
“The last couple of times he’s come home, there’s been no issues, no incidents,” Riley said. “He’s managed to come home, visit and get back to school, and that in itself is a victory.”
“I try and learn from every mistake,” Hughes said. “I’ve been through a lot. I feel like I’m probably one of the most wise people on our team, as a young guy anyway. And I try to learn from all my mistakes and try to translate it to the field.”
A mixed bag
On the field, Hughes has had mixed results. He played in 11 games and made 13 tackles as a freshman, earning himself a one-game suspension for a helmet-to-helmet hit against UAB. Last fall he played in five games and made one tackle.
“I was kind of not really going as hard at the beginning of my sophomore year, working out and stuff,” he said. “I feel like that’s why I got injured. So I put the spring emphasis on working as hard as I could in every category.
“If it don’t translate on the field, it just ain’t meant to be. But so far it’s been translating on the field. I’m playing good football.”
Hughes has added 15 pounds to last season’s listed weight, checking in at 230. He’s running with the second team this spring, but as one of MSU’s better blitzers, he’s got an important role in the defense.
“He’s playing fast, using his athletic ability to his advantage,” senior LB Cam Lawrence said. “He’s a smart player – he’s always had that. He’s really come a long ways, too.”
Football has helped Hughes deal with the hard times in his life, and there were some dark times in high school, in particular when his father and grandmother died.
And then there was his brother, who was killed during a dispute about a stolen bicycle. Hughes deals with it all by just playing on.
“I’ve got a mother and sister back home – I don’t really know how they did it, but they’re pretty strong women,” Hughes said. “Football kept my mind off of it, but every once in a while I think about it.
“If it wasn’t for football, there ain’t no telling how I would’ve took it. Really, it still hasn’t hit me yet, the stuff I’ve been through, because of football.”