N aashon Hughes was out to prove a point.
After several University of Texas coaches essentially informed him he wasn’t good enough to be included in this year’s class, the Harker Heights 6-foot-4, 215-pound senior linebacker went into the 2012 season with a major chip on his shoulder. He was going to show everyone he could go one-on-one with the opposition’s best and shut them down.
“Defensively, as a leader on the team, you can’t go tell your guys to go make a play when you can’t make one,” Hughes said. “So I tried to put myself against the best player for the other team and make a play.”
It was that tenacity to go against the best that made Hughes an obvious choice to be the 2012 Killeen Daily Herald All-Area Defensive Most Valuable Player.
The list of players Hughes negated this season reads like a who’s who of area Division I prospects: Belton tight end Durham Smythe (uncommitted), Temple quarterback Zach Allen (signed with Syracuse), Shoemaker tailback Johnny Jefferson (committed to Baylor), and Ellison tailback Isiah Cowan.
“I definitely take challenges (to heart). Johnny, Durham, all those guys are great players and I like to think of myself as a great player and I’m always up to that challenge,” Hughes said, limiting Smythe to zero catches in a 7-0 upset of Belton and holding Jefferson to just 3.8 yards per touch in a 28-12 win over Shoemaker.
Hughes captained a senior-laden Harker Heights defense that finished second in District 8-5A and helped carry the injury-plagued Knights (4-7, 4-3 8-5A) to the program’s first playoff appearance since 2006. Hughes finished with 74 tackles (36 solo), 19 for loss, two fumble recoveries and a single-season school-record 7 sacks.
Although the year ended on a sour note with a 62-15 bi-district loss to No. 2 DeSoto, Hughes’ best memories outweigh the losses, including his game-winning tackle of Cowan in a 25-22 double-overtime win, or outjumping Smythe and knocking down a potential game-tying touchdown pass late in Heights’ first victory of the season.
“Maybe that Durham play, that was pretty nice because we were both committed to Texas at the time, so got to pat him on the butt a little bit and say ‘See you again,’” Hughes said.
All-Area First-Team Defense
DL: Billy Hatten, Copperas Cove, Sr. — En route to a unanimous selection to the District 8-5A All-District First Team, the defensive tackle accounted for 54 total tackles, including 40 solo and 17 for a loss, while leading the Bulldawgs with seven sacks.
DL: Joe Guthrie, Belton, Sr. — The first-team All-District 8-5A selection, the 6-foot, 210-pound end lead Belton with six sacks on 54 tackles (19 for loss) and 24 quarterback hurries despite missing the final three games.
DL: Peyton Searcy, Killeen, So. — The District 8-5A newcomer of the year had 45 tackles, 21 solo, with three sacks, three tackle for losses and five quarterback pressures.
DL: Nate Leota, Harker Heights, Sr. — The 6-foot, 300-pound senior road grater solidified the Knights defensive line after two-way starter Darius James went down, with seven tackles for loss, one interception, one forced fumble and a fumble recovery.
LB: Jonathan Massey, Shoemaker, Sr. — The second-team All-District 8-5A pick and team defensive captain led the Grey Wolves with 64 tackles, six sacks and 21 tackle for losses.
LB: Brantley Cole, Gatesville, Sr. — No Hornet recorded more solo tackles (79), tackles for a loss (10) or sacks (4) than Cole, who was an all-district first team member and finished the season with 176 total tackles, broke up four passes and recovered a fumble.
LB: Elijah Crosby, Gatesville, Sr. (Not Pictured) — Named the District 8-3A Defensive Player of the Year, Crosby led Gatesville in assists (126) and total tackles (190), while delivering four tackles for loss, breaking up 10 passes, causing a pair of fumbles and recovering another.
DB: Tyrel Stokes, Harker Heights, Sr. — The Class 5A second-team all-state selection racked up a team-high 140 tackles (just four shy of the single-season school record), with 87 solo tackles (21 for loss), four sacks, three interceptions, three forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries.
DB: Kyle Battle, Belton, Sr. — The 8-5A first-team all-district pick had 57 solo tackles and three interceptions, combining on a district-leading 115 return yards, including a 95-yard pick-6 in a 49-14 win over Shoemaker.
DB: Deric Robertson, Killeen, Sr. — The Oklahoma State-pledge posted 50 tackles, 34 solo, to go along with seven batted passes, two interceptions — one he returned for a 43-yard touchdown — and four forced fumbles.
DB: J.D. Nolte, Gatesville, Sr. (Not pictured) — A constant threat in the secondary, Nolte intercepted a pair of passes, recovered two fumbles and posted 92 total tackles (46 solo, 46 assists) as the Hornets held opponents to 132.1 passing yards and 22.0 points per game.
P: Keith Herbert, Harker Heights, Sr., P — Keith Herbert, Harker Heights: The District 8-5A second-team punter led the district with 1,433 punting yards on 36 attempts and was second in the district with a 39.81 yards-per-punt average.