May 6, 2008

Hughes perseveres through tragedy

The pain was that which a 6-year-old never should have to endure. Without a father in his life, Montori Hughes was an elementary-school toddler when his mother, Tonya, passed away.

That's when the University of Tennessee football signee's grandmother rescued Hughes from an unfathomable situation.

"I love my grandma and respect my grandma a lot," said the 6-foot-5, 275-pound defensive lineman from Murfreesboro's Siegel High School. "She took me in. She does a lot for me even though she's handicapped. She tells me the right stuff to do and not to do, keeps me focused on school. I respect and love her a lot."

Affection and appreciation for his grandmother, plus the painful absence of his mother, are factors that continue to fuel the gifted but raw defender who tallied 106 stops in his senior campaign.

"I mean, that's a big motivation for me," Hughes said of wishing to honor his family with football. "When I play sports, I do it for my mother and my family. We've got stuff, but we ain't got a lot of stuff like a lot of people. With football, I can change my whole family history and help us do better. I see it as a motivation to do better."

En route to amassing 25-plus tackles for loss last season and 13 quarterback sacks, Hughes maintained the same tribute to his mother before every contest.

"I wrote my mom's name on my cleats," said Hughes. "That's what I do."

A gifted player on the basketball court for Siegel's state semifinalist squad, Hughes has targeted a few key areas for improvement since the end of hoops season.

"Once basketball was over, I started training," said Hughes, who hopes to enroll at UT in July if he can attain a qualifying score on his upcoming college entrance exam. "I'm getting in the weight room, working on my quickness and footwork. Coaches say I need to stay low, so I'm working on staying low and working hard."

Having endured so much adversity and pain, Hughes doesn't mind the hard work. Not when it helps honor his mother and grandmother.

Getting to know Hughes

What will you miss most about home?

"I'm going to miss my family of course. I've got some friends, but mostly my family. I've been living in Murfreesboro all my life. It will be something different. My grandma cooks soul food and it's the best thing. I'm going to miss it a lot."

What was your favorite football moment?

"I love playing football. I've played all my life. I just love the intensity of football. I get hyped up when I play football. There's something about me, I just love it. I love going out there having fun, hitting people. I mean, I've laid hits on the quarterback. I broke a quarterback's helmet. That was my favorite hit. It was against Oakland. Sonny Gray (Smyrna's All-State quarterback), that was a good hit against him. It took him a couple seconds to get up."

Who are your heroes?

"A couple. Reggie White. I always liked him. He's one of the greatest to play the game. My cousin. He didn't go to college. He was good high school player, and I always used to say I wanted to be like him. Since he didn't go to college, I'm going to try to take him all the way."

If you could have dinner with any three people who would it be?

"My mom, Reggie White and Michael Jordan."

Do you have any pre-game routines or superstitions?

"Before the game, I just listen to my music to get me hype, get me in the mood. I like to listen to Lil' Wayne."

What is your dream car?

"I just want to drive something real nice. Real nice."

What's something about your recruiting process that you will never forget?

"Something I didn't think would ever happen would be Coach (Phillip) Fulmer being in my living room. That's something I just really never thought would happen. When he was, I was just sitting there thinking, 'He's in my living room!'

When did you know and why did you choose Tennessee?

"I always liked Tennessee, and when they first started talking to me after the all-star game, I was just waiting. My assistant principal always talked to them for me, and I would always go down to her office and ask, 'Have they called? Have they called?'. One day she called me down to her office and the coaches were there. I just had a big grin on my face. Once that happened, I knew I wanted to go there."

Do you have a nickname?

"Lil' Man Man (pronounced with a long 'A,' like mane mane). My family gave it to me. They've called me that all my life."

What's your favorite thing to do other than playing football?

"I just like to hang out with my friends and have fun. That's about all."

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