Gavin Hughes

Coosa's Gavin Hughes stepped up to provide stability for the Eagles on defense this season. / Jeremy Stewart

Coosa linebacker Gavin Hughes learned that lesson this past season when a series of injuries resulted in him having to make adjustments to his position on the field.

The player rolled with the punches and knew it would be his team looking to him to provide much-needed leadership. 

“I knew every time I stepped on the field, I was the guy on defense,” Hughes said. “I had to keep them together and help them keep their composure. If someone was scoring on our defense, that couldn’t happen, and I tried to keep the defense together. It was hectic at first.”

Hughes, who signed with Mercer last month to continue his football career, is the 2018 Rome News-Tribune Defensive Player of the Year after keeping his composure and becoming the Eagles’ leading defender.

Hughes played an even bigger role on defense with the loss of defensive lineman and tight end Sean Brown three weeks into the season, racking up 127 tackles, with three tackles for a loss and nine sacks. He also forced six fumbles, recovered four fumbles and returned an interception for a touchdown.

“I just wanted to play where coach (Todd) Wheeler thought they needed me,” Hughes said. “So at the next level … this will help me.”

Stepping onto the football field during his time with Coosa was also matter of pride for Hughes. At the start of his career with the Eagles, the linebacker made a goal and through hard work — both on the field and in the classroom — attained that goal.

 “I’ll be the first person in my family to go to college and that’s big for me,” Hughes said. “I want to give my future family something I didn’t get. Since freshman year, it was my main goal — to get a full-ride scholarship and I got it, so I’m proud of that.”

Hughes’ work ethic impressed Wheeler, Coosa’s head coach, who said the all-state player realized the importance of being successful in the classroom as well as on the field.

“He comes from a blue collar background and he’s worked hard in the classroom at understanding that the educational part of it is what helps open the doors,” Wheeler said. “He’s taken full advantage of that. He’s had goals for himself and he’s worked hard for them over the past four years, and this is the result — when you add a little god-given ability.”

Joining Hughes on the RN-T All-Area First Team is fellow senior Brown, who finished 2018 with 41 tackles, 10 for a loss, six sacks, three forced and three recovered fumbles in just five games after recovering from his injury. He signed to play tight end for Tennessee starting in the fall.

Other standouts from the team include Rome High linebacker Derricus Smith who finished the Wolves’ 13-1 season with 111 total tackles, 18.5 tackles for a loss, one sack and one forced and recovered fumble.

Linebacker Kieron Roberts helped the Yellow Jackets reach the Class AA state title game with 107 tackles, 15 for a loss, three sacks, five forced fumbles and one fumble recovered for a touchdown.