Friday, April 25, 2014

Hunter Hughes is here to help

With NCAA roster limits, it appears about seven University of Hawaii football players participating in spring ball might not be invited to training camp in August.

What are the odds a sub-6-foot walk-on who is fourth in a three-quarterback competition will survive the cut? The chances probably are as good as a player who was raised in an Illinois village spending four years working around the world on a Christian mission and ending up as a Rainbow Warrior.

"I'm here to help," said Hunter Hughes, a 22-year-old freshman from Lake Zurich, Ill. "They've given me a wonderful opportunity by giving me a jersey. Until they tell me my day is done, I'm going to give 100 percent."

In addition to being a scout quarterback, Hughes throws warm-up passes to receivers, serves as a scout defender on kickoffs, fills in as a safety during offensive drills and even entertains with an Elaine Benes dance before the stretching session.

"He's fun and cool," quarterback Ikaika Woolsey said. "He knows he won't get much (quarterback) reps, but he comes out here with a great attitude. He's always smiling. He's happy to be here. It's good to have guys like that on the team. He's upbeat. He's a good guy."

Hughes said his two months as a Warrior have been "an absolute dream come true. My role out here is not to be the starting quarterback. We have a three-man race for that, and those guys are very capable of that job right now. I'm just here to give the guys a look and help them get better. I'm the Rudy of the team, and I'm happy to be here."

Before Hughes was "here," he was everywhere.

When he was 16, he set a goal of working with Youth With a Mission, a non-denominational Christian organization. To raise money for his missions, he umpired 70 baseball games each summer, worked as a caricature artist at Six Flags and mowed neighbors' lawns.

Those earnings, coupled with help from his family and friends, enabled him to build a school in Nepal, work on water and farming projects in Kenya, and teach English in Sudan and Taiwan.

"The people were amazing," Hughes said. "That's what I want to try to do the rest of my life."

He eventually was assigned to YWAM's branch in Manoa, which enabled him to enroll at UH at the in-state tuition rate this past August.

He then learned the Warriors were conducting walk-on tryouts in February. Only current full-time UH-Manoa students were eligible to audition.

As the only quarterback at the tryouts, Hughes threw about 70 passes at the afternoon workout. Hughes told quarterbacks coach Jordan Wynn: "I'd really like to help any way I can. I've got some leadership and morale experience. Just use me."

Two weeks later, head coach Norm Chow invited Hughes to spring training.

"When I got the call, I was at breakfast at Gateway (Cafeteria)," Hughes said. "He called me at 8:30 a.m. I just sat there, and then I called my dad. He went, ‘No, way.' It was just incredible, man. My whole community back home is really excited."

Hughes knows Saturday's scrimmage could be his final time in a UH uniform.

"To play Division I football — at whatever cost I need to do to play for Coach Chow — is quite an honor," Hughes said. "I just consider it a blessing every day, man, to be out here."

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