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May 3, 2011During his high school career Jay Hughes spent the majority of his time lighting up opposing defenses as one of the top running backs in the state of Mississippi.
Now Hughes is learning life on the other side of the football. The 5-foot-11, 175-pounder spent his redshirt freshman season making the adjustment to the secondary where his father, Tony Hughes, coincidently coaches.
"I'm just learning how to play corner," Hughes said. "I didn't really play it in high school so I'm kind of new to it but I'm coming along. It was just a lot to learn. I know with my dad being a DB coach all my life helped but me not being out there playing corner in high school kind of hindered me from really knowing how to play it."
Naturally spending a year under the tutelage of his father and also cornerbacks coach Melvin Smith benefitted Hughes this past fall. Hughes stated that he often receives extra pointers from his father even though he is not his primary position coach.
"He'll watch the film and he'll call me late at night and tell me what I was doing wrong," Hughes said. "He's trying to help me out with my game."
The redshirt season also helped Hughes get acclimated to what life is like in the Southeastern Conference and get his body prepared for that grind.
"(The redshirt) was the best thing for me," Hughes said. "That's what a lot of guys don't realize. They want to come right in and play. This is the SEC. You just can't come in like that. I wasn't even physically ready. Coach (Matt) Balis had to get me ready."
Hughes exited the spring still competing for a spot in the rotation at corner and had a strong showing in the spring game. He finished second on the White team with four solo tackles including one pass breakup.
One aspect that helped him during spring drills was the fact the defense underwent very little change despite Mississippi State changing co-coordinators in the offseason.
"The defense hasn't really changed at all," Hughes said. "We changed a couple of calls here and there but overall it's basically the same thing we were running last year."
The former three-star prospect was hampered somewhat during his senior season at Oak Grove in 2009 but still managed to rush for 856 yards on 143 carries and score four touchdowns leading the Warriors to the Class 6A State title game. Hughes played through a knee injury and also spent time under center as regular quarterback James McMahon missed time with a broken collarbone.
Hughes still managed to earn second-team All-State honors and a spot in the Alabama-Mississippi All-Star Classic but was unable to participate due to his injury.
But Hughes quickly discovered that finding success at the highest level of high school football in the Magnolia State and moving on to the toughest conference in college football is quite an undertaking.
"It's a real big difference," Hughes said. "Everybody is bigger and stronger and the game is much faster. It doesn't even compare to high school football no matter what level you've played on."
During the recruiting process Hughes earned offers from Auburn, Duke, Louisiana Tech, Ole Miss, Southern Miss, Tennessee, Tulsa, Vanderbilt and West Virginia. While many assumed he would pick the Bulldogs because of the ties with his father it was the fact he could represent his home state that sold him on MSU.
"It was the best decision I could have made," Hughes said. "When I was being recruited all Coach (Dan) Mullen was selling me was playing for the state of Mississippi. Now here I am representing my state. I wouldn't want to be anywhere else."