John Denton's Knights Insider: Hughes' Experience Already Paying Dividends at UCF

GO KNIGHTS Drew Hughes ventured to UCF in early December.
Drew Hughes ventured to UCF in early December.

Jan. 9, 2012

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By John Denton

ORLANDO, Fla. ( - While at the University of Alabama the past five seasons Drew Hughes played a big part in helping the Crimson Tide compile one of the most talent-rich rosters in all of college football, one good enough to win a national championship in 2010 and maybe another Monday night.

Now at UCF as the football program's Director of Player Personnel, Hughes has visions of similarly stocking the Knights with dynamic talent that will help them win big in the very near future.

UCF head coach George O'Leary hired Hughes away from his alma mater of Alabama in early December and he's already playing a major role in the Knights' recruitment of some of the top talent in Florida and the Southeast. At UCF, Hughes will have the responsibility to locating top high school talent and building the Knights' recruit board for future classes. He will work hand-in-hand with assistant coach Brent Key, UCF's recruiting coordinator, and of course will answer to O'Leary.

Full of energy and enthusiasm, Hughes said he sees no reason why UCF can't eventually recruit with some of the best schools in the country and ultimately become a perennial Top 25 program.

``Someday I'd like to be coordinating the recruiting of a team that wins a national championship. And I wouldn't be here at UCF if I didn't think we didn't have a chance to do that,'' Hughes said. ``I know that we're going into the BIG EAST and we're going to have a chance to do that. I've set a goal already for us to be BIG EAST champions and I want to help us do that. I look forward to being a part of a great coaching staff here that can help us win big.''

Hughes certainly won big at Alabama, in large part, because of the talent he helped acquire as the Crimson Tide's recruiting assistant. He played a major role in Alabama's recruitment of star running backs Mark Ingram, the 2010 Heisman Trophy winner, and Trent Richardson, a Heisman finalist this season. Hughes also helped Alabama stockpile athletes on a defense that could see as many as eight players selected in the NFL Draft in the coming years.

Hughes was recommended by Ed Marynowitz, a longtime coaching friend of O'Leary's. Hughes indefatigable work ethic and football smarts made him the perfect candidate for the UCF Director of Player Personnel job, O'Leary said.

``When I met with him I could tell right away how sharp he was and really on top of things,'' O'Leary said. ``I think he's going to be really good for us.''

Hughes is quick to point out that Alabama coach Nick Saban was plenty good for him, teaching him about the importance of recruiting and developing players already on campus. Hughes worked closely with Saban, editing practice and game films for the coach and offering up suggestions for which four- and five-star athletes to pursue in recruiting.

``Coach Saban helped me in so many ways. I learned about time management and as an undergrad how to handle academics with the expectations of the job,'' he said. ``But work ethic is the main thing that he taught me. When the head guys is staying up later and working harder then it sets the example for everybody else. So that work ethic is the main thing he taught me.''

Hughes said the chance to work with O'Leary, a coach he calls ``a legend,'' and the opportunity to recruit Florida's fertile grounds were major factors in him leaving Alabama for UCF. He said Saban was always quick to show him ``tough love'' and he looks forward to being a part of O'Leary's no-nonsense program at UCF.

``Coach O'Leary will tell you like it is and keep you in line and I like that. And if you do what he tells you to do, work hard and set a right example for the kids, then Coach will have your back through anything,'' he said. ``In the staff meetings that we've had here since I've been here I can tell the breath of fresh air running through the staff and see that the coaches are fired up.''

Hughes said he is confident that UCF's impressive facilities, positioning in Central Florida, pending entrance into the BIG EAST and culture of winning will help the Knights lure some of the biggest talent. That, he said, will ultimately make UCF one of the best programs in the country.

``When I got into recruiting you always hear Florida, California, Texas, Georgia and my home state of Alabama has some pretty good players as well. But I've always wanted to be in Florida and try to really tap into all of the great talent that's here,'' Hughes said. ``There are some really good high school coaches down here, so I'm very excited about recruiting in Florida.

``We want to build this team the right way,'' he continued. ``There are already some really good pieces in place here with this team and now it's just about finding those other ones that will allow us to take it to the next level. I want to help make that happen here at UCF.''

John Denton's Knights Insider appears on several times a week. E-mail John at