The Cutting Room Floor: Kofi Hughes

Wrote a lengthy feature on Kofi Hughes for today’s paper as part of our IU football preview wrap. As I tend to do with longer stories, I’ve put together some notes and quotes and what not that didn’t fit into the story for an occasionally recurring feature I call The Cutting Room Floor which follows.

Player/Coach Relationship

Much of the main story is based around Hughes’ relationship with Kevin Wilson. One important part of that story line that had to be cut out of the story is Hughes’ relationship with his wide receivers coach Kevin Johns.

Hughes didn’t necessarily trust Johns right off the bat, but he did see something of a kindred spirit in him and a fellow analytical mind. Johns is less a football coach than he is a professor of wide receiver science. Whenever Hughes asked the question why, Johns could explain the exact reasoning behind every drill, every step and every cut.

“He knew that I was the kind of guy that would ask why and always need the answer why,” Hughes said. “He made everything easier, he makes practice easier. Before practice, he shows me. This is what we’re gonna do, Kofi. This is the rotation. He does that just because he knows that’s the way that I am. I kind of want to know the plan before we go out there and do it. He knows me a lot better than anybody else because he’s such an analytical person and takes notes all the time just like I do.”

Johns earned Hughes’s trust before Wilson did, and that allowed him to explain to Hughes why Wilson was as demanding as he was.

“It’s my responsibility to explain to Kofi how Coach Wilson thinks and what he’s trying to get done with this program,” Johns said. “Sometimes when players hear the head coach, a lot of times it’s just the commands and the demands of the head coach. I step in and say, ‘Listen, Here’s why he’s doing that. Here’s the type of team he’s trying to create.’ I think that helps when they understand the why.”

Hughes had never played wide receiver until he started at Indiana, and he was still relatively raw when Johns got a hold of him, but he’s always been impressed but Hughes’ intelligence and his ability to process the game and instructions. He calls Hughes’ football IQ “off the charts,” and relies on him to keep the younger receivers sticking to the plan during offseason workouts and making sure they stick with the fundamentals.

“As a receiver coach, when my guys come off in between series, I’ll ask them, ‘hey, what did you see? What happened to you on this play? Because I can’t always see everything from the sidelines,” Johns said. “He’s pretty much on it. He knows exactly if the corner played him man or played him zone or what happened. He’s on it.”

The two always stay in close contact even away from practice. When Hughes went to watch an Indianapolis Colts practice earlier this summer, he and Johns held a Twitter conversation talking about what Hughes saw in their drills. Johns turned Hughes on to country music, and Hughes will text Johns Florida-Georgia Line lyrics when he finds songs he likes.

“I think when I was going through what I was going through  I didn’t trust him and he knew that I didn’t trust a lot of people, and he was just on me, every day, every day, just trying to prove to me that I could trust him,” Hughes said. “And I did. And once I did, it made everything 10 times better, because any time I had an issue. Any time I was thinking wrong or thinking anything, coach Johns was my outlet, and I really did trust him and know that I could go to him and talked to him really about whatever I needed to talk to him about.”

Born Leader

Much of the story is about Hughes’ natural magnetism and his ability to get people in his corner. His mother Julianna said she first saw it when he was in pre-school. Hughes teacher told her early on that her biggest problem each day was dealing with the fights that would occur daily between other boys who wanted to sit next to Kofi. The teacher had to actually set up a day-to-day rotation so that there wouldn’t be skirmishes.

Hughes’ draw helped him get out of assignments he didn’t want to do in class. In fifth grade, he convinced his teacher to allow him to help her with office chores to avoid quiet reading time. Hughes is a bit of an intellectual, but was always more of a math and science guy and wasn’t a huge fan of reading as a child. The charisma also helped him get his driver’s license. At least that’s the way his mother tells the story.

“We went and got his driver’s license,” Julianna said. “He didn’t take driver’s ed. He didn’t even look at the manual. I told him, ‘You’re going to get fried.’ He got the meaneest looking old woman as his examiner. We’re at the license branch and she snipped at me because I didn’t sign some paper the right way. He went out with that bitter old woman, and they came back best friends. He doesn’t really do it consciously, he doesn’t take advantage of it, but he can charm anybody. They bonded over her grandson. Whoever it is, he finds a way to connect with the person. I said, ‘I can not believe you.’ I thought for sure he was going to flunk his driver’s test. He was always like that.”

His parents told him that it was important to use his influence the right way.

“I told him to use his powers for good,” Julianna said. “He’s always been able to get people wrapped around his finger pretty quickly.”

Said his father Dock: “I’ve always instilled that in him. I said, ‘Son, be a leader not a follower. I’ve told him that since he was little, since he could speak. Be a leader not a follower. Make your own path, do what’s right and people will follow.  We ingrained that in his brain.”

There were times he didn’t adhere to that. That was especially true when he was a freshman in high school and went to Lawrence North. He got in some trouble there — no one was specific — and went to Cathedral as a sophomore.

“I personally didn’t see a lot of changes, but my parents saw me change and they saw me change in a negative way,” Hughes said. “My freshman year at LN was the first time for a lot of things. I did a lot of my firsts in my freshman year at LN. My parents obviously weren’t very happy about that. My dad was always kind of on the Cathedral bandwagon or whatever you want to call it. That summer, I remember he told me that I was going to go to Cathedral, I just started laughing. I was like, ‘There’s no way I’m going to go to Cathedral, I don’t want to go there. I’m not that kind of kid. Da da da da da.’ Sure enough I went there though. I enrolled. It was a tough sophomore year, and then everything just worked out for the best.”

What does he mean by firsts?

“Like I said, when you think about the first time you did a lot of things, it was the first time I did a lot of things. In those categories,” Hughes said. “It was my first year of high school, but also I experienced a lot of things for the first time that year that you probably shouldn’t experience in your first year of high school.”

Cathedral got him more on the path of the straight and narrow. Wilson’s first year at Indiana, he became a bit less of a leader, but he eventually bought in and has gradually taken more ownership of the team.

“He’s matured and grown up a lot as far just owning it,” Julianna said. “Just owning the responsibility. He has always been charsitmatic and always been a leader, but he’s not always embraced it and not necessarily done anything with it. … He finally owns it. He owns the responsibility.”

Football IQ

When Hughes was a young child, his mother enrolled him in just about every rec league sport she could put him in from soccer to baseball to basketball to football. Football was the one that stuck because it was the one that required the most from him mentally.

His father Dock was a running back at South Bend LaSalle. He injured his collarbone and had to miss his senior year, but actually got the bug to play semi-pro much later in life, joining the Anderson County Chiefs at the age of 40.

“Most guys when they turn 40, they buy a Corvette,” Dock Hughes said. “Me, I decided to play semi-pro football. I had the time of my life.”

The elder Hughes coached his son when Kofi was in sixth grade, and that’s when he understood that he not only had the athleticism but the mind for the game. He was a talented basketball player and his speed and vertical could allow him to play bigger than he was, but that sport never seemed to draw his full effort and passion out of him. Football did.

“Even in sixth grade, when I was working on the palybook for sixth grade football, I had this football program on my computer back then and just designed plays and strategies,” Dock said. “This boy would come up with his own little playbook. Tht’s when I knew I said, man, he needs to be a quarterback.  This is where he needs to be. He’s just not out there playing the position, he’s also thinking the psoiton. He understands what everybody else is supposed to do.”

Roommates

Part of Hughes’s problem as a sophomore was the players he was living with and hanging out with. He won’t name them and says he’s still friends with most of them, but he did say they weren’t on the same page as the rest of the program and that he was in better shape when he stopped listening to them.

“I’m not going to personally name those guys,” Hughes said. “At the end of the day, those aren’t bad guys. They’re not bad people at all. It’s just what we’re doing now in this Wilson era and where we’re trying to put IU football, the things that those guys were doing at the time and that I was doing wasn’t going to work here, and it was going to keep IU football down in the dumps. So it’s not that what they were doing is necessarily bad in society or anything like that, but in order for this program to grow, we could no longer do that, so they wanted to keep doing what they were doing, and I was on the fence about it, now I’m where I want to be because I want to be because I want to be a part of this, I want to be a part of this team and bringing IU football back to where it needs to be.”

Hughes now lives with Isaiah Roundtree among others, and that’s been a much healthier relationship. They’ve known each other since they were 8 years old — Roundtree also went to Lawrence North — and they complement each other well. Roundtree is widely considered the funniest player on the team, and both he and Hughes are generally unconcerned with whether what they do while hanging out is considered conventional by the rest of the team. They’re both video game geeks – FIFA soccer is a favorite — they’ve been known to listen to Coldplay, John Mayer and Dave Matthews Band, and they’re both taking up golf. At least to the extent that they’re spending a lot of time at driving ranges.

“Zeke is always the guys that going to get you laughing even when you’re mad about this tired about this,” Hughes said. “You’ll look over at Zeke and he’ll make one of these faces that he normally makes or just start messing around like he does which is hard to describe and instantly start laughing. Zeke’s just been a great influence for me because Zeke’s not guy that does the whole going out thing and does all the partying and stuff like that. Zeke’s a guy that likes to chill and hang out with the guys and laugh. There were so many nights lat year that me and Zeke would not go out, we’d just sit in our living room and people watch from our doorstep and just crack up literally all night. Zeke’s a great influence because he’s just a great guy.”

 

5 comments

  1. Great story Dustin. I’ve had a great deal of respect for this kid since I saw him QB a Cathedral team that was down about 21 points with less than 10 seconds left. There was no quit in him, in fact on the final play he scrambled, left the pocket and got absolutely blown up. Which showed me he plays to the final whistle. This article sheds a little more light on why he may not have played to expectations during his first two years. It also shows the maturity of a 20 year old, to move away from friends in order to progress. I’m expecting Kofi to leave everything on the field this season and really help this program. He simply makes plays. He’s made some of the most physical tackles I’ve seen at IU during special teams or following a turnover. Keep up the great work Dustin.

  2. Gotta’ agree with Hoosier Bob, Keith and Hoosier Clarion. Great research and writing, Dustin! Thanks!

    We’ll even excuse a typo or two when it’s off the cutting room floor — and presumably unedited!

  3. Dustin,

    A great follow-up piece to your excellent story in the Herald Times.

    I am so jacked up to see this year’s football team in action. Eight home games and maybe an away game or two to attend—“PRICELESS”.

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