Justin Hughes’ 2019 campaign is over before it even began.
Hughes, a rising fifth-year senior linebacker, will sit out this fall after suffering a season-ending injury in a recent practice.
“He tore his ACL last week,” K-State head coach Chris Klieman said Saturday following the team’s 15th and final practice of the spring. “Sick for the kid, love him. He knows how I feel about him. In my opinion, in a short time around him, (he’s the) heart and soul of our football team. Kids love him, coaches love him.”
Hughes, a Georgia native, played in 11 games last season, starting the final seven. He finished third on the team in tackles with 56 (seven for loss) and tallied two forced fumbles and a fumble recovery. His seven tackles for loss ranked third on the team, while his two forced fumbles put him fourth among Big 12 players.
Teammates and coaches alike have raved about Hughes this spring, touting his on-field ability and his near-photographic memory of defensive schemes and formations.
“Justin Hughes is a guy who is extremely sharp,” defensive coordinator and linebackers coach Scottie Hazelton said April 2. “A good natural and instinctual linebacker, really good kid who understands the whole concept of everything. He’s sharp like that, and he can do it on the field. He can take things from the classroom onto the field, and it’s great to have a guy like that on there, because he also can coach the guys when you’re not around.
“He’s a leader in the room, gets them together and watches tape and do all that stuff. So it’s nice to have him.”
Though they won’t have him in an on-field role this fall, Klieman said Hughes
“will be back.” Klieman said he expects Hughes will receive a medical hardship redshirt to return for a sixth season.
“He’s going to do that because he loves the game of football,” Klieman said. “So the challenge for Justin is to be a great leader — be that captain like he is — from the sideline next year. He’ll be challenged by it, but I think he’ll grow from it. I know he’ll be back stronger and better than ever, but he’ll miss next year.”
Despite the unexpected adversity for Hughes, Klieman struck an optimistic tone for the future.
“I’m really confident he’s going to be back in 2020,” Klieman said.