Where I was from, it was all physical out there. Being about to bang around as little kids, without getting in trouble, it was fun. —Casey Hughes
SALT LAKE CITY — Casey Hughes chose Utah because of the family atmosphere and physical style of play.
That familial affection turned out to be the thing that sustained the junior corner back when he struggled to adjust to an atmosphere so completely different from his hometown of Las Vegas.
“It was a weird adjustment,” Hughes said. “It took like over a year — the different seasons, going from (living in) a 24-hour city then coming to this place where nothing is open after 9 or 10 (p.m.), and just a lot of little stuff like that. It was a big difference for me. It was hard.”
When he struggled most, he said, he only had to look around the gym or practice field at the guys he felt like he committed to when Utah four years ago.
“It was definitely my teammates,” he said. “You’re away from home; you get homesick. You just got to lean on these guys. If not, you’re going to have a tough time trying to get through that by yourself. What helped me was for sure my teammates.”
Utah cornerbacks coach Sharrieff Shah praised Hughes for having the patience necessary to develop his body and mind into a player who could guard the Pac-12’s best receivers. "It's been a long time coming,” Shah said of Hughes’ success this season. “I mean, I recruited Casey out of Nevada. He's been with me for four years, and for him to wait for four years and to finally get an opportunity speaks to his patience, his trust in to just me but the program and the process."
He said he and Layton alumnus Julian Blackmon are the two most physical corners Utah has, and they’ve helped the team’s secondary develop toughness on the edges.
"I'm unbelievably proud of him,” Shah continued. “There are things that he still needs to learn as a corner when the bullets are live, but I'm so proud of his development, his maturation process and how he's brought other young players along."
Hughes said his parents hoped he’d be a baseball player. But, as he grew bored with the pace of the sport, his godfather noticed how fast he was.
“He put me in it,” Hughes said. “And that was that. I loved it right away.” What he loved most is the physical toughness required of the sport.
“Where I was from, it was all physical out there,” he said. “Being about to bang around as little kids, without getting in trouble, it was fun.”
Hughes was a first-team All-State cornerback and second-team All-state running back as a senior at Legacy High.
After redshirting in 2014, he saw action with special teams in 2015 and 2016, with some time at defensive back in 2016.
This season, however, he’s not only started eight games at cornerback, he’s proven himself to be a leader — emotionally and statistically. He’s tied for fourth in the Pac-12 in forced fumbles (2). He also has 22 tackles (2.0 TFL, 1.0 sack) and a pass breakup.
He said patience is tough to have, especially when one is yearning for home.
“It’s stressful,” he said of collegiate sports. “You go through a lot of stuff. It’s real hard. You’re just waiting for your opportunity. You get this mindset, and think, ‘Is this really for me?′ And then you look at your teammates, and these are the guys you’ve been grinding with, these are the guys you’re doing it for.”
Like most of his teammates, he’d like to turn Utah’s season around against UCLA as much for his brothers as for himself.
He is, however, as baffled as anyone about Utah’s defensive woes.
“It’s tough,” he said. “Throughout the day, you just think about it. I just don’t know how to explain those things. I don’t like losing personally.”
Regardless of the failures — individually or combined — he said there is only one choice.
“We’ve just got to bounce back this week,” he said.