By RON CLEMENTS
Special to The Messenger
INDIANAPOLIS — Even with his checkered past, Montori Hughes never doubted his NFL future.
A road paved with immature mistakes led Hughes to UT Martin and, two years later, the 6-foot-4, 329-pound defensive tackle finds himself at the NFL Combine.
“I just want to show my abilities and my talents, get out there and just have fun and take advantage of the opportunity I got,” Hughes said Saturday afternoon at Lucas Oil Stadium. “I went through a lot of stuff through my college career, but I’m a very mature person now from when I started. I just want the NFL coaches to see who I am as a person.”
Coming out of Siegel High School in Murfreesboro, Hughes originally signed with the University of Tennessee. He failed to qualify academically and attended Fork Union Military Academy for a year before enrolling at Tennessee in January of 2009. He struggled in the classroom and had a pair of marijuana-related incidents that eventually led to his dismissal from the football team.
“I had to clean up my act and get myself together,” said Hughes, who will go through on-field workouts today. “I feel like I have a lot to prove. I’m a competitor and want to show what I can do.”
He transferred to UT Martin in the fall of 2011 and dominated the Football Championship Subdivision competition.
Those two years of dominance led to an invitation to the Raycom College Football All-Star Classic and then the Senior Bowl.
Considered an impressive athlete for his size, Hughes’ 80-inch wingspan is another measurable scouts like.
“You want to like him,” said former NFL scout Russ Lande. “He’s a well-built, thick-bodied kid, powerful kid. You’d like to see him play with better technique and leverage more consistently if he’s going to be productive at the next level.
“Teams are intrigued by his size and strength and his athleticism he has, but they’d like to see a little bit more production.”
After Hughes was dismissed from Tennessee, he remained positive and never lost sight of his goal to play in the NFL.
“Being at UT Martin, every day I was just focused on one day at a time, getting better at one thing at a time each day,” he said. “As long as you work hard and stay at it, anything’s possible. It’s a blessing to be here, coming from a smaller school, but I’ve got a lot to prove and a lot to show.”
When he’s asked by NFL teams about his troubled past, Hughes said he answers their questions honestly because “they already know all the answers.”
“I’ve matured a lot, so I have nothing to hide,” he said. “I’ve learned from those mistakes as a young guy, so I just want to improve and be a better person as a man.”
Hughes’ strength is as a run-stuffer, but he also said with a smirk that he’s “got a little bit of a pass rush.”
Hughes recorded 8.5 tackles for a loss and four sacks last season.
He said he’s comfortable as a 4-3 three-technique tackle or a 3-4 nose tackle. Beggars can’t be choosers and Martin isn’t going to object to whichever team takes a chance on him, warts and all.
“I just love playing football,” he said. “Not having football for the couple months I didn’t have it really woke me up and humbled me a lot. Just getting an opportunity to play, I want to take advantage of it and capitalize it.
“I don’t want to mess that up for a second time.”
Published in The Messenger 2.25.13