At 6’4”, 330 pounds defensive tackle and Siegel High School graduate Montori Hughes is hard to miss. Whether he’s walking to class, hitting the weight room or punishing offensive linemen on the gridiron, Hughes has always stood out.
Siegel High graduate Montori Hughes (93) gets a second chance at his dream of being a professional football player when the NFL Draft gets underway Thursday.
However, the constant visibility has not always been positive.
In 2011 after the end of his sophomore season at the University of Tennessee at Knoxville, Hughes was dismissed from the Volunteer football program following an undisclosed dorm room incident. Prior to the incident, Hughes had been suspended by then head coach Derek Dooley for failing to meet his academic obligations to the program.
But all was not lost for Hughes.
Following his departure from Knoxville, the defensive tackle transferred to the University of Tennessee at Martin where he gained a roster spot on the school’s football team. In two seasons with the Skyhawks, Hughes was a dominant force on the defensive line, racking up 61 tackles and five sacks.
But above all else, Hughes is just happy to be playing his lifelong passion again.
“Coming from UT Knox (Knoxville) to UT Martin was a big difference, but you know at the same time it’s all football,” Hughes said. “Just having a second opportunity, another opportunity to play football again was just a blessing so my feeling was just take advantage of that and just capitalize on the second chance that I have.”
Hughes came into his own in his second season with the Skyhawks, who finished with an 8-3 record in 2012. Of his 61 tackles, 31 came during the 2012 season along with four of his five career sacks.
“I love playing football. I’ve got passion for the game,” said Hughes. “I’ve just been going out there and letting my teammates feed off my energy and just try to lead by example and go out there and have fun and win.”
Now that his college football career is over, Hughes has devoted his energy to preparing for the NFL Draft, a childhood dream of his.
After receiving an invitation to the NFL Combine, Hughes is currently ranked 11th at his position and is projected to be a fourth or fifth round pick according to NFLdraftscout.com. The process for Hughes has been nothing short of rewarding.
“It’s wonderful. You’re living this dream,” Hughes said about the NFL Draft. “As a little kid you always think about these things and you look up to it and you watch the Combine and you watch the process and you watch all these things that I’m going through right now. I just first of all thank God. It’s just a blessing for me to still have the opportunity to play at the next level.”
And the goals for Hughes do not stop at just making an NFL Roster.
“(I want to) get on a team, get on a roster and then contribute, be productive,” he said. “You know not just be on the team but be productive and help the team win, help contribute to wins and get a conference championship and try to get a Super Bowl.”
Hughes’ support network has also taken notice of his rejuvenated football career. His high school coach David Watson has been in frequent touch with Hughes following graduation.
“Montori’s got a big old heart. He’s very caring, he’s very loyal,” said Watson, who now coaches at Blackman High School. “He’s an emotional guy, period. I think at times his emotions can probably at times overflow a little bit and cause him a problem here and there. Montori’s a very good kid, a very solid kid.
“He left UT and it was unfortunate because we all wanted him to be able to stay there and he wanted to be able to stay there,” Watson continued. “But I think that it was a growing process for him. I think he learned a lot and it may have been a blessing for him to have football taken away from him so to speak for a short time in terms of the unknown of where you’re going to play at and where you’re going to be. When I’ve talked to him he’s been much more mature and focused.”
As for how Hughes can help an NFL team, Watson quickly noted his former defensive tackle’s size.
“You don’t make guys as big as he is,” Watson said. “If Montori’s focused and determined, I think the sky’s the limit for Montori. I think he could be an above average player in the NFL. There’s no question about the ability and the talent.”
Of the several NFL teams that have contacted Watson, the St. Louis Rams have been among the most interested.
Another person that has been thrilled with Hughes’ transition has been Siegel High School’s Assistant Principal Renee Martin. During Montori’s time at Siegel High, Martin served as a mentor to the young defensive tackle.
“I think he’s become more serious and committed to preparing himself, keeping himself physically and mentally prepared, going to school and realizing that you may not always get a second chance,” she said. “He is very focused.”
Martin talks on the phone with Hughes once or twice a month. Prior to Hughes preparing for the NFL Draft, the conversations were nearly weekly.
“He’s more like one of my children really,” said Martin.
Second chances in life are often rare but Montori Hughes has been taking advantage of his thus far.
With a renewed work ethic, the massive defensive tackle has shown his friends, family and NFL scouts that he could succeed as a professional football player.
The only question for Hughes is whether he can maintain his focus.
But he now knows what it is like to have football taken away from him.
He does not plan on repeating that feeling any time soon.