Like most high school standouts, Mississippi State's Jay Hughes had goals of suiting up and taking to the field in his true freshman campaign. Also similiar to high school prospects, the Bulldog cornerback was thankful for his redshirt season after the fact.
"It helped a lot and it helped mostly with probably my strength and just becoming a better player," said the 5-foot-11 and 188-pound Hughes. "Sitting out that year seems like a bad thing when you are in high school. But it helps you to grow as a person and as a player."
During his prep career, Hughes did most of his damage on the offensive side of the ball at running back. Having received offers from the likes of Auburn, Arkansas, Kentucky and Duke, Hughes then made the full-time transition to cornerback when he arrived in Starkville.
Hughes did redshirt last year and made the most of his moments in practice. With the Bulldogs bowling in 2010, Hughes and numerous other redshirts got the bulk of the practice spotlight in the first couple of weeks of bowl reps.
"It helped me to get a feel for what was coming," said Hughes, a former Oak Grove (Miss.) standout. "Myself and Jamerson (Love) were getting a lot of reps in bowl practice. So it's kinda the same we are doing the same things over and over again and just re-learning the system."
Another "great situation" for Hughes and Love are the veterans among the Bulldog corners. Corey Broomfield, Johnthan Banks and Damein Anderson have all seen their share of playing time in the SEC and offer a good example for MSU's redshirt freshmen corners.
"It's actually a great situation," said Hughes. "When they do go in for us, it allows me and Jamerson a chance to watch and study what they are doing. It is an advantage for us being young guys and to be around those veterans and watch their game."
Hughes also noted he spends much time off the field studying up on his position. His discussions off the field usually include himself and Love trying to get an edge in their preparations for the next day of spring practice.
"We discuss what we are going to do a lot," said Hughes. "I am a boundry corner and Jamerson is a field corner. It is a lot different but the same concepts apply. We talk all the time about formations and what to do on certain situations."
Thus far in spring ball, Hughes and Love have received several looks with the second-team defense. Last week in practice, Hughes had a pick in a scrimmage setting and followed that up with an interception in last Saturday's scrimmage. Going against a receiving corps that has improved dramatically since last year, particularly depth-wise, Hughes acknowledged what receiver was the toughest to defend. "Arceto Clark," said Hughes. "He is quick and he runs crisp routes and has such great hands. If it is close to him, you better knock it down or it's going to be a catch."
While Hughes is anxious to get his first college snaps in the Bulldogs' secondary, he also realizes he has to make his mark on special teams. And playing for head coach Dan Mullen, that requirement is first and foremost.
"We've just started doing some more special teams and doing more full reps," said Hughes. "And my goal is to get a spot, too, on special teams cause that's where it starts with Coach Mullen."
Playing under the guidance of MSU cornerbacks' coach Melvin Smith, Hughes also has another pair of watchful eyes observing his play in spring practice. His father is MSU safeties' coach Tony Hughes and naturally, his father offers a helping hand and advice when needed. But as the younger Hughes noted, he does ask his father for advice at times but he also understands his dad has his own practice duties with his own guys at safety.
"I do and he always encourages me and helps me and keeps me motivated," said Hughes of his dad. "He tries to stay out of the coaching mode with me but he gets on me every now and then (laughing). I don't really think about him being a coach out there. I know he is watching me out there but he also has his own guys to coach with the safeties and his own job to do."