February 6, 2018

Cauz: Hughes’ new colours will take getting used to

Angela Burger/Stampeders.com

For a player who has never known the sensation/sting of been traded in his 10 years, Friday was quite the day for Charleston Hughes, who was moved from Calgary to Hamilton for less time than it takes to drink a double/double and then shipped off to Regina (that’s the equivalent of 5,984 kilometres of Canadian travel).

I guess I shouldn’t have been shocked in the salary cap world that Hughes was moved considering what we saw with Bears Woods last year in Montreal, but I still couldn’t believe it. There is no more valuable commodity on defence than a player who can get to the quarterback; who can disrupt a week’s worth of planning by an offensive coordinator by his sheer individual will to knock down the opposing passer.

» Hughes traded to Ticats, then Riders
» Recapping a frantic Friday in the CFL off-season
» By the Numbers: Charleston Hughes

Charleston Hughes is one of the CFL’s most consistent pass rushers, hitting double-digits again in 2017 (Johany Jutras/CFL.ca)

Hughes has always been one of my favourite players in the league. I mean, just check out his profile picture on CFL.ca. I love anyone that can break out such a great smile, and yet we know that behind that grin is a player designed to make life miserable for quarterbacks. What you have to appreciate is the consistency. Every year, there he was on the Calgary Stampeders defensive line, one of the main reasons that year in and year out the team would rip off yet another 14-15 wins.

With Hughes in the news and heading to the Saskatchewan Roughriders, I wanted to go over some fun facts about Hughes and his career. Treat this column as a PSA on just how damn good Hughes has been and how interesting a life he has lived. Oh, before I go on, with Willie Jefferson retained to hold down the other defensive end spot, I may recommend that some of the West Division quarterbacks think about heading East. I hear Montreal may be looking for someone to get the ball to Chris Williams and Ernest Jackson.

Fun Fact #1: He was cut from his first training camp with Calgary in 2008.

Hughes was good enough to make it to the end of camp; he just wasn’t good enough to make it all the way, as he ended up being the final cut right before the 2008 season-opener in late June. The CFL’s loss was nearly the telecommunication industry’s gain as Hughes was already looking at his post-football career as he had a promising job offer with Verizon Wireless. But with Week 1 injuries to Juwan Simpson and Funtaine Hunter, Hughes was brought back to Calgary and the rest is history.

PSA reminder about how good he is:

In the last six seasons, Hughes has led the league in sacks on three occasions. When you consider how difficult it is to bring down a quarterback in this league and the random luck that is involved, that is an impressive achievement. In 2012 he finished second by one sack to Keron Williams. The next season Hughes topped the league with 18 QB bring-downs while Keron managed just four. That is not meant to be a shot at Keron, just a mini example of how difficult it is to consistently put up double-digit sack seasons, which Hughes has done five times.

Charleston Hughes hit double-digit sacks for the fifth time in six seasons in 2017 (Johany Jutras/CFL.ca)

Fun Fact #2: Hughes was a manager at Cattle Baron, a Calgary Steakhouse!

I love these quotes from his Cattle Baron boss, Greg Insinger, back in 2014:

“He just came in and applied for a managerial position. He said that he didn’t have the experience and that he was a good learner and that he wanted to learn something more than football. He was really interested in the restaurant industry. He has a great attitude being a sports celebrity coming in to do the job and training that’s necessary. He doesn’t act like he’s above anyone else which is really good, and he’s very humble.”

I have always been fascinated by the second act of professional football players and I admire Hughes’ foresight. Hey, you’re never going to play forever, and it required humility to take a far less glamourous position for the purpose of preparing himself for when his playing days are over.

On a side note to the Cattle Baron, you have a solid wine list but maybe get a little more B.C. wine on your list. Okanagan is putting out some fantastic wines (You can read the whole story here).

And as a PSA reminder about how good he is:

While it may be unfair to say that being healthy is a “skill” considering the league is littered with hard-luck, fluke injuries, it is fair to say that being available is such an underrated factor when looking at the overall impact of any single player. In his 10 seasons, Hughes has played in 147 regular season games, averaging just under 15 games a year. For a lineman who is constantly ping-ponging against players who consistently outweigh him, that is a testament to his durability.

Charleston Hughes (left) stands alongside defensive stalwart Micah Johnson during a game in 2017 (Johany Jutras/CFL.ca)

Fun Fact #3: He is a self-taught snowboarder.

Shout out to Vicki Hall from the Calgary Herald who wrote about this adventure back in 2014. I will put the entire link at the bottom but here is all you need to know about what happened:

1. Hughes is surrounded by the Rocky Mountains.
2. He is drawn to said mountains.
3. He watches a snowboarding instructional video on YouTube.
4. He goes to the Nakiska Mountain Resort to snowboard.
5. This quote: “I don’t know how to stop. I couldn’t stop. The only way I could control how to stop was to fall on my back or fall on my butt. My butt was sore.”

The entire story from Hall can be read right here.

PSA reminder that all these players are human:

These quotes by Hughes upon digesting the news about his new address kinda bummed me out:

“I’ve been here so long, 10 years, you expect to finish where you started.”

“I never really imagined wearing another jersey but I guess I gotta put it my head.”

I appreciate his honesty instead of just backsliding into the normal cliché that the game “is a business” or the always unsatisfying line “it is what it is. The guy deserves to feel hurt.

Fun Fact #4: The first quarterback he ever sacked last played football for something called the “Allen Wrangles.”

And that quarterback was …. Casey Printers! The date was July 17, 2008 in a 43-16 win over the Hamilton Tiger-Cats. Printers would be out of the league two years later and the final time he would ever suit up would be in the Indoor Football League in February of 2012 for the mighty Wranglers.

Really, I just included this fact to put into context how long Hughes has been plying his trade. The last quarterback he sacked as a part of the Calgary Stampeders was the 2017 MOP Mike Reilly. From Printers to Reilly that is a hell of run for Hughes in Alberta.

You have to give John Hufnagel and the Calgary Stampeders the benefit of the doubt about on this move. No team develops talent from within better than the Stamps and again that salary cap will get you every time. But it’s going to be weird to see Charleston Hughes wearing a Roughriders jersey.