ST. JOSEPH – For a few moments, Hunter Hughes appeared ready to do something he had wanted to do for a long time.
Representing Norborne Hardin-Central’s co-op 8-man football program, the Hardin-Central graduate helped the Green All-Stars win the 11th Annual Missouri 8-Man All-Star June 29 at Missouri Western State University in St. Joseph 40-26.
For much of the night, Hughes played as an interior defensive lineman.
But with 1 minute, 9 seconds left in the fourth quarter and the Green All-Stars leading the Silver All-Stars 40-20, Hughes entered the game as a possible running back for a two-point conversion attempt. Listed at 6 feet tall and 376 pounds, and wearing No. 72, he called to mind William “The Refrigerator” Perry, a defensive lineman the Chicago Bears sometimes used as an offensive back in goal line situations.
Unlike Perry, Hughes did not carry the ball. Nor did he catch a pass.
Instead, Hughes served as a decoy to try to trick the Silver All-Stars into thinking the Green All-Stars would give Hughes the ball. Maybe they should have, as the Green All-Stars unsuccessfully attempted to convert a two-point pass.
Hughes did not mind.
“The game isn’t about you,” he said. “It’s about the team. You can’t take the credit, usually, as a lineman; they give it to somebody else. But they know you were there to help. And that’s what I did – I went out and helped.”
Kirk Thacker, Hughes’ coach at Norborne Hardin-Central, said Hughes had wanted to carry the football during the 2018 high school season. Thacker, who had refrained from giving Hughes the ball for fear of injury, said it “was kind of fun” to watch Hughes in the backfield.
“It was a very unique play and very well-thought out,” Thacker said.
The decoy play represented one of two major surprises Hughes experienced that night. The other being the Silver All-Stars’ offensive line double-teamed him.
“They double-teamed me a lot,” he said. “The whole first half, it seemed like they did. Second half, they let up a little. But once I started getting back in the groove, once I was getting my legs loose again, they started double-teaming me more. Near the end, I think their guys were kind of getting tired, so it was harder for them to double-team me.”
Overall, Hughes “had a great game,” Thacker said.
“He made his presence known. … I watched him handle some people and knock them around,” he said. “(Hughes) had several tackles.”
For Hughes, who is mulling over his plans after school, the ballgame marked the end of his 8-man football career. He called his gridiron farewell a “great” and “amazing” experience.
“I had a lot of fun,” he said. “And winning was a really great thing.”
One other Ray Countians played in the game. Seth McAfee, who graduated high school this spring from Orrick, played primarily as a defensive back for the Silver All-Stars.
“I was just all fun,” he said.
McAfee, who seeks construction industry work, used the word “fun” to help sum up his experience of playing at Orrick, too. He fondly recalled sharing the field with players who had grown up with him and his final season, when the Bearcats reached the 8-man state semifinals.
“It goes by fast,” McAfee said.