Last season didn’t go exactly as John Huggins envisioned it.
As a freshman safety with several veterans ahead of him, he knew he had a lot of ground to make up. But the transition from being the best player on the field at almost all times to being surrounded by other players who are just as good or better hits some harder than others.
It hit Huggins hard. He made a couple of tackles and grabbed an interception in Florida’s season opener against Charleston Southern, and it felt like that might propel him to a big year. Instead, he had just one tackle the rest of the season and rarely got on the field (other than special teams).
“Last year in the fall I got a little down on myself because there was a lot of guys ahead of me,” Huggins said. “Just really keeping a positive mindset and just keep working, keep getting better and keep working my craft.”
Through all the impatience and disappointment, Huggins leaned on former Florida defensive lineman Jachai Polite, who had been in his shoes before.
“Keep working and don’t get down on yourself,” he said of Polite’s encouragement. “He didn’t play a lot his freshman year, and he’s about to get paid. Just keep the right mindset.”
With a strong spring now under his belt, it seems his perseverance paid off. He turned heads throughout spring practice, and it continued in Saturday’s Orange and Blue game.
The Gators might have been playing a vanilla defense, but it didn’t stop Huggins from stepping up and picking off Kyle Trask on his very first drive of the game. No one had a chance to catch him as he took it 80 yards to the house.
On top of his defensive play of the day, Huggins also had a tackle for loss and a pass breakup.
“It’s big,” he said. “It’s big for me. Just letting the coaches know I can play, that I can solidify myself here at the University of Florida, at DBU. It’s just a great feeling.”
The position change to nickel (or star) suits him well. He was ecstatic when the coaches approached him about making the move because he knew how well it could work with his game.
“I like getting my hands on guys,” Huggins said. “I think I’m a pretty physical DB, and I like jamming at the line of scrimmage, I like playing man. There’s a lot more man. You’re on an island, so it’s really just a lot of one-on-one, and I like that. I like that responsibility.”
Huggins might have been down on himself last fall, but he will enter this fall feeling much more confident. He’s now playing a position he loves, and playing it well.