Great article on Mike Huff!


(April 18, 2006) — The last time we saw Michael Huff on a football field, he was stopping LenDale White on a fourth-down play, setting the stage for Vince Young’s last-minute touchdown that gave the University of Texas a 41-38 win over Southern California in the Rose Bowl and delivered a national championship to the Longhorns.So what did Huff do to celebrate? What did the Longhorns safety do to reward himself for an accomplishment that, as a Texan born and bred, he says was the culmination of a “dream to play for Texas and bring a national championship back to Texas because it had been so long?”

He went back to work.

“I didn’t even have time to celebrate because I had to start getting ready for the Combine and the draft,” Huff said. “I went straight to Phoenix (to train at Athletes’ Performance) to get ready for the draft. I didn’t even get a chance to go to the White House.”That kind of regimented approach comes as no surprise to Huff’s father. Ever since Huff started playing football at age 8 and told his dad that he wanted to become a professional player (or a rapper), Michael Huff Sr. has seen his son stay on a very disciplined path to achieve his goal.

“Having talent is one thing, but you need to have a desire that you are willing to go above and beyond the average athlete by putting in the work and making the sacrifice. Where a lot of college students have the opportunity to go out and relax and enjoy, he’s been on the practice field, he’s been in the weight room, and he made that sacrifice. He wasn’t trying to mix the two together,” Huff Sr. said of his son.

And now all that sacrifice is about to pay off. The younger Huff, a consensus All-American and winner of the Jim Thorpe award as the nation’s top defensive back, is widely considered the best defensive back in the 2006 NFL Draft and will likely be among the top 10 picks. He has had visits with most of the teams in the top 11.

While he played almost exclusively at strong safety at Texas, making all but three of his 50 career starts there, Huff’s versatility and speed — he ran a 4.34 40-yard dash at the NFL Scouting Combine — has some teams considering moving him to cornerback. It’s a move that would suit Huff just fine.

“As long as I’m on the field with a chance to make plays, I’ll play wherever,” he said.

His attitude and work ethic earned Michael Huff the respect of his teammates and coaches at Texas. Â

Combining with the discipline and commitment that Huff made to refining his game is a competitive edge that helped him rise from a lightly recruited player from Irving’s Nimitz High School, where he played both defensive back and receiver and also ran track, to arguably the best safety in Longhorns history.

After sitting out his first season in Austin as a redshirt year, Huff was named Texas’ most improved defensive player after a freshman campaign that saw him start all 13 games. He earned his way on to the field by going head-to-head in practice every day with Longhorns receiver Roy Williams, now with the Detroit Lions after being the No. 7 pick in the 2004 draft. Those battles have given Huff the confidence to be just as productive on the next level.

“When I was young, I had to battle against Roy Williams every day in practice,” he said. “So that’s why I feel I can play corner and start right away because I see the success he’s having in the NFL. So if I can cover him in practice, I feel I can go out there and compete and cover anybody out there. … Coming from starting four years at Texas, I’m used to playing in the big game, used to playing against great competitors. So I feel I can be an immediate impact for any team I go to.”

He also has an ongoing competition with Young, the Texas quarterback who, like Huff, is expected to be picked early in the first round. And while Huff says the two aren’t battling to see who gets drafted first, their rivalry over who has more speed seems to be settled — for now.

“The only competition is who runs faster and I think we proved that since I ran faster in the 40,” said Huff, whose 4.34 time at the Combine topped Young’s 4.57 at the Texas Pro Day. “The whole time I was at Texas, he claimed he was faster than me so we always go back and forth.”

But what with the pads on? “That’s a little different story,” Huff admits. “A couple days in practice he broke it and I couldn’t catch him, so that may be a little different. But all we have is the timed 40.”

That competitiveness also shows itself when Huff gets the ball in his hands. He set a Texas school record by scoring five defensive touchdowns (four on interception returns, one on a fumble) and he says finding the end zone becomes an obsession when he gets the race chance to turn from defender to scoring threat.

“It’s from my old receiver days. I like to score,” Huff said. “Especially if I score in the NFL, I get to do a little dance, do a little celebration. So I’ll be excited to pick up the ball, get a fumble or get an interception so I can go back and score a touchdown and do something creative.”

And don’t expect the NFL’s new rules limiting touchdown celebrations to cramp Huff’s style should he score. “You can always find a way to bend the rules,” he said.

It may seem premature to be planning a touchdown celebration before even entering the league, but Huff also already has his first purchase in mind once he signs an NFL contract — an IHOP restaurant to satisfy his love of pancakes. But his post-draft plans don’t mean that Huff’s dedication to football and making himself better is likely to wane once his NFL goal is reached. Those work habits have been ingrained in him from the beginning.

“Michael’s always been self-motivated,” said Huff’s father. “He developed a love of the sport from watching it all the time. And that’s what made it easy with the coaches that he’s had is that they didn’t have to push him when it came to football. His off days, he’ll be watching NFL Total Access, on the computer, flip through ESPN SportsCenter when other kids could be watching movies or listening to music.

“He’s steady into the sport. It seems like he never rests.”


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