Say what you want about IU’s ability, or lack thereof, to recruit certain positions in the past. The receiver position hasn’t been one of them.
Names like Courtney Roby, James Hardy and Tandon Doss roll of the tongue when looking at recent IU alumni at the position.
A former high school quarterback, Kofi Hughes marveled at the abilities of Doss and several other talented receivers as a freshman in 2009. It took a little convincing, but the former high school quarterback knew what his new calling was.
“Of course I looked around seeing Damarlo (Belcher), seeing Tandon and Terrence (Turner). I’m like, ‘Yea I want to be a receiver, I want to learn from those guys.’”
Then-head coach Bill Lynch was the main force that convinced Hughes to make the switch, even though Hughes never played the position prior to college.
Kevin Wilson and Indiana’s quarterbacks are glad he did. A senior, Hughes was IU’s third leading receiver in 2012, catching 43 passes for 639 yards and three scores.
When Hughes first got to Bloomington, the learning curve was steep. He credits his elder receivers — Doss, Turner and Belcher — for teaching him the ins and outs of the position.
“I don’t know if they did it just because they knew I wasn’t going to play, but they took me under their wing,” he said. “They showed me everything and worked with me because my routes were horrible. I’m only used to being in the pocket doing the drop steps and stuff like that.”
Hughes would probably convert to lineman if it meant he would see the field.
“The reason why I play football is just for that Saturday, just for that adrenaline rush, just that feeling,” he said. That first play jogging out there, that whole experience of the game is just the best feeling in the world, and whether it’s Indiana State or Bowling Green or Ohio State, I get the same feeling every time.”
He said route running is still his biggest weakness, but the difference from when he first started is palpable.
“It’s definitely a night and day difference, but it needs to be better,” he said.
Senior defensive back Greg Heban has faced Hughes regularly in practice and also sees the evolution in Hughes’ skills.
“I think he’s improved so much than he did his freshman year,” Heban said. “I think another thing with his size and his route running, he’s a great receiver and I don’t know what he’s talking about. I think he’s a pretty dang good route runner.”
While Hughes works on connecting with the quarterbacks, his ability to connect with his teammates needs little work. Wilson said from the moment he took the job he could tell other players gravitated towards Hughes.
The two at first butted heads, but have improved their relationship dramatically over the past three years.
Wilson said last year Hughes came to him talking of players that “didn’t care,” and was instrumental in changing the attitude of those players or removing them from the team if they refused to change.
“I think he just understands the standard of the team,” Wilson said. “Competition’s a good deal and I just think he finally bought in to, ‘You got to bring it,’ and I think he bought into, ‘If you’re a good player … I hold you to a pretty high standard of what I expect.’”
Hughes has developed into a better receiver and team leader, but feels the clock ticking on his remaining time at IU.
“When you’re a senior there’s a sense of urgency he has,” Wilson said. “Because this is his last go, this is his last year, and if he wants any chance of being a guy to be looked at next year he needs to have a great year.”
Hughes believes that if he has the season he’s “supposed to have,” he will in fact get an opportunity to play on Sundays.
Whether or not the NFL is in Hughes’ future remains to be seen. For the time being, the focus is on this season and Indiana football.
“I got that time in the back of my head like, ‘This is four years now, what am I going to make of it?’” he said. “And I think that the legacy that I want to leave and the legacy a lot of these seniors want to leave is we weren’t losers, but we were that team that turned this whole program around and got IU football up to the top.”
Follow Joe Popely at Twitter.com/joepopely.