Already big in stature, Montori Hughes had to grow in status.
Moving to a small town did it.
The UT Martin senior became the first Ohio Valley Conference player selected in the 2013 NFL Draft when the Indianapolis Colts traded up to snag the defensive tackle in the fifth round (139th overall) on Saturday.
“The thing about Montori is how far he’s come as a person and a teammate,” UTM head coach Jason Simpson said. “When someone 6-4 and 330 pounds with ability walks in, obviously, professional football is all that’s on people’s minds. He just had to grow up some. There was never anything off the field with him, but he just had to work through some bad habits on the field. He had to learn how to practice and be disciplined. He’s very low maintenance as a player. He just loves playing football.”
Hughes becomes the 12th player in UT Martin history to be picked in the NFL Draft and first since Fred Thomas (second round, 47th overall) was chosen by the Seattle Seahawks in 1996.
Hughes led a group of five college players in rural West Tennessee to earn a chance in the NFL, including fellow Skyhawk Quentin Sims.
Sims was one of four area players to be taken as an undrafted free agent, hoping to earn a spot with the Atlanta Falcons.
“Quentin is a self-made player, and that’s what I’m most proud of,” Simpson said. “He’s worked hard to get the most out of his ability.”
Bethel quarterback Wilson Masoud and wide receiver Michael Newbern were picked up by the New York Giants and Tampa Bay Buccaneers, respectively, while Lane cornerback Vernon Kearney will get a look with the Buffalo Bills.
In addition, Humboldt product and Ole Miss defensive lineman E.J. Epperson was picked up by the Kansas City Chiefs.
Hughes, a Murfreesboro native, anchored the Skyhawk defensive line the past two seasons after transferring from the University of Tennessee.
Consistently facing double- and triple-teams in the trenches, Hughes tallied 72 tackles (29 solo), 15 tackles for loss, five sacks and 16 quarterback hurries over the span of 22 games.
Hughes earned Phil Steele All-American and Sports Network All-American accolades after a dominant 2012 campaign. He ranked fourth in the OVC in sacks (four) and registered 8.5 tackles for loss to go along with 13 quarterback hurries on his way to first team All-OVC honors.
Hughes’ best career game at UT Martin came on the road at Eastern Illinois on Oct. 22, 2011. In that game, he tallied 10 tackles, 5.5 tackles for loss (the most by any OVC player all season), a sack, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery to help the Skyhawks to a 24-23 victory.
For his efforts, he was named the College Football Performance Awards National Defensive Performer of the Week and National Defensive Lineman of the Week while also capturing OVC Defensive Player of the Week honors.
In January, Hughes made a name for himself while playing amongst the nation’s best collegiate players in the Senior Bowl and Raycom Football All-Star Classic, both held in Alabama.
He was then one of three OVC players invited to the NFL Scouting Combine in late February, ironically held in Lucas Oil Stadium — the home of the Indianapolis Colts.
Hughes will join a Colts squad that is coming off an 11-5 record in 2012 under head coach Chuck Pagano. Indianapolis advanced to the playoffs, where it fell to eventual Super Bowl winner Baltimore in the wild card round.
Sims was one of the nation’s best pass-catchers in 2012, pulling in 86 receptions for 1,092 yards and 16 touchdowns, averaging 99.3 yards per game.
He led the Skyhawks with 96 points this past season.
As a junior, Sims had 54 catches for 712 yards and 10 TDs.
The 6-2, 202-pound receiver out of Ohio prep powerhouse Cincinnati Colerain originally signed with Georgia Tech before transferring to UT Martin.
Published in The Messenger 4.29.13