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2021 NFL Draft Prospect Interview: Justin Hughes, LB, Kansas State

Justin Hughes Kansas State NFL Draft Interview
Justin Hughes was one of the leaders of the Kansas State defense at linebacker. He recently sat down with NFL Draft Diamonds writer Jimmy Williams.
  • Name: Justin Hughes
  • Height: 6’1”
  • Weight: 227 lbs
  • Position: LB
  • College: Kansas State University
  • Twitter: @justin_2201
  • Instagram: justin_2201

Talk about your experience as a student. What is your major/minor? Did you participate in any other activities or campus organizations other than football?
My experience at KSU was really good. They have a beautiful campus and wonderful people. My major was in Communications with a minor in Mass Com & Journalism. I was able to complete community service with our football team where we helped out at an elderly home.

What do your teammates say is your best quality?
My communications skills and IQ. I’m a 2-time team captain, and it’s important to know the assignments on the field and relay that to the rest of my teammates.

What kind of role do you see yourself in on the team? What scheme and/or position suits your skill set?
I see myself making a big impact on special teams and being a backup as a 4-3 MLB or 3-4 ILB and working my way up a depth chart. Even though I will likely be a backup, I plan on being a leader on the football team whether on defense or special teams.

On defense, I can be used as a decent chess piece to move around. I’m versatile enough to play in many schemes and even play a nickel LB. We mostly played in the nickel during my time at KSU. So, I’m comfortable dropping into coverage. I can play zone coverages or fill in the gaps up front if needed. 

Who is the best player you have ever played against in college?
Kyler Murray is definitely the best player that I have had to face. He’s quick and fast, yet also smart and accurate. People underestimate him as a passer. He’s a very determined athlete.

In 2018, I played against David Montgomery. He certainly gained my respect. He was a strong physical back that was hard to tackle. He also had good balance.

Which one of your teammates impresses you the most?
Wyatt Hubert. He’s an animal as an edge rusher. He’s very talented, works hard and has the best work ethic.

One of the teammates that impressed me early on in my career was DT Will Geary. He’s the strongest man I have ever seen. He had freakish ability and was able to dominate the line of scrimmage.

Describe a time in your life when you were able to overcome a struggle.
I have unquestionably had my fair share of struggles over the years. When I first came to college, I was a bit of a knucklehead and needed time to mature. I didn’t really see eye-to-eye with the coaches. Thus, I ended up redshirting my first season and didn’t see any game action the following year. I finally got on the field in 2017 due to a teammate’s injury and was given the chance to show them what I can do. Getting out on the field and seeing what I had to do in order to compete at the Big 12 college level helped me get more serious about the game. I had to learn how to treat it more like a job if I wanted to play in the NFL. So, I began to study hard, learn our playbook and different schemes. I became a much better student of the game which led me to start every game in 2018.

2019 didn’t really begin as well as I had planned. During Spring ball, I suffered a knee injury. It was the “unhappy triad” of knee injuries tearing my ACL, MCL and meniscus. It was the last day of padded practice in the Spring. The safety fell into my already hyperextended knee while we were covering our tight end. It was a very painful injury. I knew that I had to put my faith in God in order for it to all work out. It was a hard process, being swollen, not being able to move, taking pain pills and losing weight because you don’t feel like eating. Yet, my family, friends and teammates were there every step of the way. I don’t think I would be able to have come out okay without them. I’m very grateful to have made it through that process. It wasn’t very fun, but it gave me a better appreciation for my opportunity to play the game of football.

If you didn’t play football, what other sport would you play?
If I was a few inches taller, I would definitely be playing basketball. I played up until my 11th grade year in high school. I stopped playing because our coach wanted me to focus my efforts on becoming the best football player that I can be. I also practiced with the track team in high school in order to stay in shape.

Describe one of the most memorable plays of your collegiate career.
Our game this past season against Oklahoma was my most memorable game. We were the underdogs and came out on top 38-35. I had a good play in that game where we called a blitz. I shot the gap and when I hit the running back, he did a complete flip. We were lit as we celebrated on the sideline after that play.

My best moment had to be in our game against Kansas in 2018. That was a very tight game as well. They hung around all game. I was able to shoot in the backfield tackling Pooka Williams for the loss forcing them to punt the ball.

Do you have a favorite athlete or professional team? Is there a player that you model your game after?
I’m a diehard Laker fan. Kobe Bryant is my favorite athlete of all-time. RIP. There are many players in the league that I try to model my game after. Bobby Wagner is the best LB in the league. He’s a great leader that knows how to tackle as well as drop into coverage. Fred Warner also does great in coverage. I study him as well as Darius Leonard. Leonard is just one of those players that proves that the league will find you if you’re great. Leonard always knows where the ball is and has a fantastic motor throughout the game.

Who is your favorite music artist? What gets you pumped before a game?
Kendrick Lamar is one of my favorite artists. I listen to Young Thug or Rod Wave before games.

What is your favorite comfort food?
My Auntie Vera makes these fried salmon croquettes that are great. I love that with some rice, peas and rolls.

Do you have a favorite movie, TV show or actor?
My favorite TV show is “Power”. One of my favorite movies is “Toy Story”. Denzel Washington is the best actor ever.

What do you do in your spare time? Do you have any hobbies? Any secret talents?
In my spare time, if I’m not working out or watching film, I like to play video games like Call of Duty or 2K. I also like to ride ATVs like dirt bikes and 4 wheelers. One of the things that’s interesting about me is that I created a Sponge Bob meme that went viral.

Why do you play football? Who or what motivates you the most?
I play because I love the game. Hearing the crowd, the chess match, and physical nature of the game give me a rush. Football has also opened up a window of opportunity and taken me places I never thought I’d go. I was able to spend a week in Hawaii at the Hula Bowl which I’ll never forget.

The people that have sacrificed for me to be able to play are who motivate me the most. I give up my body so that those people can have the world. I play this game for all those people. I want to provide for my family. Playing football allows me to be happy with what I’m doing and hopefully set my family up to be successful.

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