In life, especially football, self-awareness remains vital to success. For Prattville Patriots’ linebacker Henley Hughes, presence of mind and heady play remain just as important as the physical aspect of the game. With a showdown with the APDFL champion Mississippi Dynasty looming, Hughes and the Patriots focus on each opponent.
With the Dynasty looking dominant early, what do you need to do to enhance the Patriots’ playoff chances?
I just need to do my job and play my role within our scheme. Nothing extra, nothing less. Everything else will take care of itself. I believe in our guys and their abilities to get the job done on a week-to-week basis. It’s not how you start, it’s how you finish and I believe our guys are hungry for improvement. We play the Dynasty in week 4 so we will turn our focus to them in week 4. We understand they are the defending champions and they return another top talent team with one of the best coaches in the league in Mike Lloyd. We respect them, but right now, our focus is on this week’s opponent, Tuskegee.
League wide, the Patriots earned a reputation for a strong pass rush. As a linebacker, articulate how your job changes, playing behind that rush talent?
I cannot say enough about those guys up front. Justin Robinson, Patrick Campbell, Tyrome Graham, Mike Slaughter, Greg Moss, Marcus Peters, Randy Dunn, Jordan Davis, and the list goes on and on. There are so many rotating pieces on that front and they all rotate and stay fresh. As linebacker, it is a big help in occupying offensive linemen, especially since I am considered undersized at 6 ft 220 lbs. They plug gaps just as good as their pass rush is and they keep blockers off us linebackers so we can roam free and play sideline to sideline. Without them, we as a linebacker corps do not have the success we have. Our linebackers’ jobs really do not change due to our front and how dominant they are. We still have our gaps to control and our zones to cover, but playing behind such a touted defensive line sure is a big help for us and helps us do our jobs more efficiently
Unfortunately, semipro earned a notorious reputation for teams’ lack of organization. In what ways do the Patriots differ from the perceived norm?
You will not find that issue in Prattville. Ever since Alex Popwell took over the reigns as General Manager 3 years ago, this program has grown each year. We are heavily involved in the community and our team is very accessible to the public. It generates our fan base to grow and gives us more exposure. The live stream of the games and constant marketing through Facebook and other social media outlets generates more exposure for us and brings in interest for new players to tryout next year. Alex has done an excellent job in managing this program and we are glad to have him. It is a busy, crazy, hectic job to do, one certainly I could not do, but he braves that task and does a lot for us. For that, we are blessed and thankful.
In your opinion, where can the APDFL improve?
Easily, the APDFL is the best league on this side of the Mississippi. I cannot speak for the West Coast because I have never played in those leagues, but from structure, organization, and leadership, the APDFL is where it is at. Most of the teams in this league have good structure and foundations, which is a major plus. Some of the new teams have that as well. I cannot help but give Augusta, one of the new teams in our league, credit for how they market themselves and how uniform they are in things. I have a lot of respect for them. In the APDFL, you will see rosters with guys that have major college and NFL experience. It is fun to compete against those guys and see how you measure up. As far as improvement, it is hard to find anything major while being a realist about all issues. Bernard and his staff have done well in moving the league forward with better rules and regulations that clean up our league and game. You really do not know how good you have it until you play in another league and see what kind of mess it is when you compare it to the APDFL. I am glad to say I play in this league. It truly is the SEC of pro developmental football.
June 24th marks your 30th birthday. What remaining goals do you still possess?
Ha-ha, yeah the clock never really stops ticking, does it? This will in fact be my last year playing. I have had a good run, garnered some awards and accomplishments, and made numerous friends and relationships along the way. I am forever grateful for this game. With it being my last year, of course I would like to go out on top. Who wouldn’t? I have been on some championship teams and would love to add one final ring to my collection. Personal goals are just to make the guys around me better in any way I can. Help them further their careers and add awards and rings to their collection. Also, teach the rookies on our roster some things and get them molded to take over next year and hand the torch over to them. I am excited about Quentin Peters. Everyone will be hearing that name around this league for years to come. I take a lot of pride in teaching guys the game and seeing them improve. Who knows? I may just very well take up coaching once this season ends. Coaching has always been a passion of mine and it would be a way of giving back to this game that has given me so much.
Does that mean that you will join the Patriots staff?
It is a possibility since it is a spring league. I am looking more in to getting into coaching in the high school ranks. One of my biggest influences was my high school coach, Robert Gartman. The man is a legend and owns numerous state titles. I was lucky enough to be on two of his state title teams. He was hard on us, but fair. Always respected him. If I could have that type of influence on young kids that are growing up and help be a positive in their life, as well as see them use football as tool to take them farther in life, then I’d call that a major success. Coaching high school is really, where my heart is.
What three pieces of advice would you offer to new APDFL teams?
If we are talking newly developed teams as in year one teams, my main advice is to plan. Too many teams jump right in and do not know the ins and outs of this brand of football. Most do not have the adequate funding or support needed and they often fold. I would say if you are planning to start a team, give it an entire year before you play so you can get everything organized from the staff to the field to the way you’ll come up with funds, community support, team rules, and so on. Too many teams jump right in and subsequently fold halfway through. Another piece of advice is do not get discouraged. It is very rare teams are immediately successful right off the bat, although it has happened. I know in year one at Prattville it was a struggle. We went 4-4 and took our bruises and lumps getting started. 2 and 3 years later we’ve built this thing into one of the most talented and respected teams around. Be patient and see it through. Last bit of advice, uniforms. You have to brand yourself that appeals to your locals. That attracts support. Some places like flashy like Oregon, some like basic and bold looks like Alabama. It is important to know whom you are selling your brand to and to appeal to it so you can attract as much local support as possible.
As a team, where will Prattville improve?
Communication. We have brought many new people in and the communication has not quite gelled yet in some areas. Defensively you can hide communication a tad better by making up for it with pure athleticism. On offense, that is a different story. If not all 11 are on the same page, somebody is going to slip through and cause havoc on that play. I think once we get the communication part down and start playing as a unit and well-oiled machine, and then the sky is the limit. We had the same issue in game one of last year. After that, we rolled off 10 wins in a row, most in blowout fashion. I am excited to see how our people respond this weekend. If I know my people like I think I do, I think they are all hungry for improvement and out to make a statement this weekend.
In reality, Henley Hughes and Prattville appear ready to make a deep playoff run. More importantly, Hughes offered prescient advice to new teams.