TERRE HAUTE —
A.J. Hughes had an admittedly up and down freshman season as the punter for Virginia Tech’s football team, but the sophomore from Terre Haute North High School has elevated his game like one of his long, hanging left-footed punts.
Hughes ranks first in the Atlantic Coast Conference in punting with a 44.8-yard average per punt, a 4.7 increase over last year and a lofty number that ranks him ninth nationally.
There have been ups and downs, though. Hughes’ first punt of the year was returned 72 yards for a touchdown. Team-wise, the Hokies were ranked 16th in the nation entering Saturday’s game with normal pushover Duke. VT missed a pair of field goals, however, and suffered a difficult 13-10 loss.
Virginia Tech boasts the nation’s top defense statistically and Hughes is part of that equation.
“Every opportunity I’m on the field, if I can put them inside the 10, that’s what I’m shooting for,” Hughes told the Roanoke Times. “Because magical things are going to happen when the ball is so close to the opposing goal line.”
Hughes has 15 punts of 50 or more yards, equaling his total of last season, and has averaged more than 40 yards per punt in every game.
“As a whole, our unit is really just doing a great job,” Hughes said. “I’ve got a good long snapper [Eddie D’Antuono]. He’s putting it right on the money. And if it’s a good snap, it’s a good punt. That’s really how I look at it.”
The Hokies look to get back on the winning track on Saturday against Boston College.
In other news:
• Herrin drawing attention — Terre Haute South junior quarterback Timmy Herrin has started drawing college attention, picking up his first offer from FCS Bryant College in Rhode Island.
Bryant’s wide receivers coach is former Braves’ signal-caller Michael Engle, in his second year at the East Coast school.
Other schools showing early interest have been Northern Illinois, Harvard, Toledo and several Division II schools.
Herrin was able to watch his mentor for the past two seasons, Purdue freshman Danny Etling, make his first career start earlier this month for the Boilermakers while on an unofficial visit to West Lafayette.
“It was fun being there for the first time, watching them warm up and especially seeing our old quarterback from last year get to play, and make his first start,” Herrin told Scout.com.
Through eight regular-season games, the 6-foot-4, 195-pound Herrin had completed 106 of 182 passes for 1,552 yards and 15 touchdowns to just six interceptions.
He credits Etling for helping with his quick development.
“I learned a lot from him last year, teaching me coverages, reading routes and overall as a football player. He’s very, very intelligent, and that helped me a lot,” Herrin said. “He helped me out his offseason too. It was nice having him there.”
• Recent commitments — Several area athletes have made recent D-I college commitments, and will be expanded on at a later time.
Former Terre Haute North basketball standout Jake Newton, a sophomore at Lincoln Trail College, will play his final two seasons at Southern Illinois-Edwardsville in the Ohio Valley Conference.
Sullivan junior golfing standout Nate Pirtle committed to play for Purdue, while Terre Haute South senior softball standout Kelsey Marlow will continue her softball career at Western Illinois.
• McCowns on both sides of town — Two Casey-Westfield grads who have played a lot of football together are continuing their careers in Terre Haute at the collegiate level.
Indiana State’s Patrick McCown, 6-1, 260-pound redshirt freshman, was listed as second string on the depth chart for last week’s game against top-ranked North Dakota State.
Shawn McCown, a 6-1, 250-pound true freshman offensive lineman, is a second-string lineman at Rose-Hulman.
The pair is distantly related to collegiate and pro standouts Luke and Josh McCown.
Joey Bennett is a former Tribune-Star sports reporter and copy editor who now teaches at Northview High School in Brazil. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.