Naashon Hughes follows his heart

AUSTIN, Texas -- Through it all, Naashon Hughes had a feeling his mind already was made up.

When Texas brought him in for its first junior day and made him the only visitor of 12 who didn't get an offer, the Harker Heights linebacker said he understood.

When Longhorns coaches lined up four other linebacker visitors for their second junior day, Hughes said he wasn't worried.

When one of them, Cypress Woods' Deoundrei Davis, got an offer and committed on Sunday morning, Hughes was disappointed. But for some reason, he still never doubted his plans.

And after he spoke with Texas' coaches on Monday night, Hughes paused for a moment. He decided to call his brother Camrhon, the Longhorns' freshman tackle, for some advice.

"He told me to go wherever I felt comfortable and where my heart is," Hughes said. "That's Texas."

It always was. That's why Hughes delivered his commitment to the Longhorns on Tuesday, and it's why he did so despite agreeing to a deal that's not exactly ideal.

If Texas coaches don't have a spot for Hughes in their recruiting class come February, Hughes will accept an opportunity to grayshirt. He'd have to sit out the 2013 season, pay for his own classes as a part-time student and then officially join the program and go on scholarship in the spring of 2014.

"I think it says a lot about him," Harker Heights coach Mike Mullins said. "It's hard for kids when they're right in the middle of their junior year. They want to do what's best and find the right choice two years down the road. For him, I think it was a very mature decision."

There's a reason why the term "grayshirt" isn't prominent in most recruits' lexicons. The arrangement is far from flawless for your average college-bound senior. A real scholarship beats a grayshirt any day for most.

But Hughes isn't like most recruits. Good luck finding many kids who would rather walk on for a semester than take a full-ride offer from two top SEC programs.

"Really, I could've easily gone to South Carolina or LSU or something like that," Hughes said. "But the atmosphere at Texas always had that family feel to it. I know all the coaches, know everything there. It just feels like home."

Texas coach Mack Brown has a weakness for that family culture. Some scoffed at his decision to give Kenny Vaccaro's brother Kevin a scholarship last fall. That certainly wasn't the first time Brown tried to do right by a member of the Longhorn family. But taking two linebackers in this lean recruiting class required creativity.

Grayshirting is a strategy Texas has employed rarely in recent years even as it has become increasingly prevalent across the country. Former offensive tackles Tony Hills and Adam Ulatoski both took grayshirts, but they did so while recovering from injuries.

UT's most notable non-injury grayshirt offers have gone to receiver Emory Blake, an Austin native who chose Auburn, and Garrett Gilbert's brother Griffin, a tight end who signed with TCU in February.

Hughes said the deal doesn't bother him much. He's confident the Texas coaching staff will make good on its vow to give him his scholarship if one is still available next spring.

"The grayshirt is a last resort," he said. "Either way, I still end up at Texas. Whether it's 2013 or 2014, either way I end up where I want to be."

Don't think other recruiters won't try to make Hughes see the folly of his choice. He's now an easy target for Les Miles, Steve Spurrier and others who covet the 6-foot-3, 210-pound hybrid linebacker.

Hughes will hear more than his fair share of negative recruiting. He'll be told Texas isn't giving him what he deserves. But he's not taking his previously planned junior day trips to Oklahoma or LSU, and he's not going to dwell on the insecurity of his agreement.

Because no matter what strings are attached, this is what Hughes has wanted all along. This is what he'd hoped for when he tagged along every time Camrhon visited Austin.

"I've wanted to be a Longhorn from the start. That's why I committed," he said. "Being a Longhorn is another step in my dreams. No matter what, it's a good choice for me."

His decision might seem confusing or unorthodox to some. To Hughes, this all couldn't be simpler.

Hughes always wanted to go to Texas. On Tuesday, Texas finally wanted him too.

Max Olson covers University of Texas sports and recruiting for HornsNation.
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