There’s a little extra incentive at Trinity every week, incentive that comes from the perception that the Wildcats’ football program isn’t what it used to be.
“We’ve been playing with a chip on our shoulder, when people are looking down on us and people aren’t believing in us,” Trinity senior Jake Hufham said. “When everybody’s voting on one team to win, that’s definitely momentum for us. It gets us hyped up for the game, trying to prove ourselves.”
While there may be some who doubted Trinity’s resurgence this season, no one can dispute the value of the Wildcats’ prized receiver who has figured so greatly in their success. Jake Hufham’s first steps on the football field as a varsity player in 2017 came with plenty of hype as the younger brother of receiver Luke Hufham.
“It’s definitely something you’ve got to live up to,” he said. “It makes me work harder and try to prove myself.”
He did that fairly early in his career, although Trinity’s offense struggle to produce points. Last year, he was easily the most recognizable player on offense, perhaps on the team, as the Wildcats had a late-season surge that lifted them into the playoffs.
“Interviewing for this job, watching film of last year’s team, he stood out,” first-year Trinity coach Granger Shook said. “I knew he was going to be a good player. I knew this type of kid was motivated to work but Jake is very motivated, one of the hardest working players on our team, very respectful and a good athlete.”
Trinity suffered an early-season loss to Montgomery Academy, but even after holding the Wildcats to just a field goal, MA coach Robert Johnson counted his blessings that his defense was able to contain Hufham.
“He’s a tremendous matchup problem,” Johnson said. “Tall kid, fast, great routes, catches the ball really well. And they’ve got a lot more than just No. 11, but he presents matchup problems for everybody that they play.”
Montgomery Academy didn’t plan any special defensive strategy for Hufham, “but you’re aware of him,” Johnson said. “Maybe you roll coverages that way.”
Hufham soon learned that teams intent on stopping the Wildcats often started by designing a defense that could stop him.
“It’s a little frustrating, but you’ve just got to work through it, watch the film and adjust to it and see how to run the routes,” he said.
“He draws man coverage a lot and a lot of times he’s bracketed,” Shook explained. “Other teams always try to have an idea of where he is based on what they do on defense. With us understanding that and him being the type of young man he is, we’ve had to be patient with the amount of balls he’s thrown every game. Because of his selflessness, he stayed focused and now he’s starting to receive the benefits of it.”
He has 40 receptions for 645 yards – an average of 16.1 yards per catch – and seven touchdowns. Ironically, his play at cornerback has figured into his performance at receiver and vice versa as he carefully studies the people playing both positions.
“The moves that a receiver does, I might do that here and there, so I kind of try to guess (what an opposing receiver might do),” he said, “and then when I’m at receiver, I’m like this move might work because I struggle with it or it’s hard for the other corners. It’s kind of fun trying to think about what I would do on the other side of the ball.”
He responded with 40 tackles, one quarterback hurry, one fumble recovery, nine passes defended and two interceptions. If he was at a larger school where he only played one side of the ball, he could just as likely end up at cornerback.
“He’s a really good corner for us,” Shook said. “He’s been second in tackles in several games behind either Walt (Cherry) or Ky (Williamson). He’s always around the ball. He’s deceptively fast and a big player for us on both sides of the ball. If you’re 6-foot and you can play corner, you’re going to play it in a lot of places. He’s got the length to take away some throws and the length to help with tackles.”
Hufham gives the credit for his success on the defensive side of the ball to coordinator Jon Shamburger and secondary coach Andrew Crenshaw.
“Coach Sham and Coach Crenshaw do a good job of telling us to get to the ball all the time,” he said. “When you see seven red jerseys around the ball all at one time, it’s because in our practices he’s always forcing us to get to the ball or we get the punishment.”
Trinity’s defense has been solid all year, but now the offense is starting to gain momentum and Hufham is becoming more and more of a major component in the Wildcats’ production. Trinity’s offensive players need no reminder that the only team that held them without a touchdown this season was Montgomery Academy in a 13-3 loss on Aug. 28.
As they prepare to face the Eagles again, this time in the 3A quarterfinals, they prefer the underdog role. They know they’re a much better team in November, even as they continue to search for respect.
“It’s changed a lot from the first and second weeks,” Hufham said. “We’ve done a lot of adjustments and we’ve just gotten more comfortable and confident in who we are and what we do.
“This is a huge game. It is the next game, so we have to look at it like that and not just as our rival.”