At 6-foot-3, 225 pounds, Adairsville senior linebacker Dakota Hughes could be found running all over the field making tackles this past season for the Tigers.
He recorded 111 tackles as a senior, leading the team, despite missing the last two games of the year with an injury.
“The most impressive thing, he can play inside linebacker and make tackles from sideline to sideline,” Adairsville head coach Eric Bishop said of Hughes. “When you see a kid doing that, and having double digit tackles [in a game], that’s pretty impressive.”
The size, production and talent made Hughes attractive to college recruiters, and on Friday, he signed to play football at Reinhardt University during a ceremony at Adairsville High.
Hughes watched Reinhardt’s national semifinal win this season, and liked the mentality the players had during the game. He saw the success the Eagles had, making it to the NAIA national championship game, and felt he’d be a good fit.
“I took a visit up there. I kept in contact with all the coaches all summer,” He said. “The way they play, it relates to how I play. ... They play aggressive, they play hard and they play all four quarters. They play all out football.”
Hughes plans on majoring in business administration management, and chose the Waleska school over LaGrange College, Kennesaw State and Shorter University.
It is unclear what position Hughes will play at the next level, but his size and athleticism will give the Reinhardt coaching staff plenty of options.
He played both middle and outside linebacker at times for the Tigers, and was even moved to defensive end to match up with certain teams. In addition to his high tackle total as a senior, he had 10 tackles for loss, three sacks, two pass breakups and a forced fumble.
Hughes also had a moment at tight end against Haralson County in the ninth game of his senior year. He had a 75-yard touchdown reception, to go along with the 10 tackles, three for loss, and a sack on defense. That was all before leaving the game early with a broken ankle.
He’s back to squatting and is working his way up to running in his rehab, and should be at full strength for Reinhardt as a freshman.
“What’s most impressive about his senior year was, he led the team in [tackles] and was out the last two games of the year. That tells you what an impact he had,” Bishop said of Hughes. “Between him and [fellow Reinhardt signee Bryce Burgess], I think they had like 23 or 24 tackles [per game]. That’s scary as a coach because somebody else is going to have to make those 23 or 24 tackles next year.”
If Hughes makes the same kind of improvement in college that he made over his high school career, he could be a steal for Reinhardt. After playing JV as a freshman, he saw some varsity action as a sophomore, including Adairsville’s two playoffs games that year.
He really came on as a junior, though, leading Adairsville in tackles over the last five games, before putting together a consistent, productive senior campaign.
“[His junior] year, the last five games of the season is really where you saw the light bulb kind of come on, and he kind of changed as a high school football player,” Bishop said. “He went into the offseason with the idea he kind of found a home at linebacker and could make plays from sideline to sideline, and he did that late in his junior year. This year, we kind of bounced him around based on who we were playing and what we had to defend.”
“Junior year was my first starting season — That’s when it clicked. I got the feel of the game and just connected with everything,” Hughes said of his improvement. “The coaches said trust the process, so really all I had to do was buy into everything they taught and walked us through. It just clicked.”
Hughes will continue to play alongside Adairsville teammates Burgess and Maddox Teems, and is one of five Bartow County players signed to Reinhardt.
“It’s pretty cool to continue a career in football with friends you’ve grown up with since you were in diapers,” he said.
Bishop lauded the character and leadership qualities of the three Adairsville Reinhardt signees, and believes their work ethic in the classroom and the football field will make a positive impact in the Reinhardt locker room.
Hughes is hoping that translates into on-field success as well.
“I want to prove to them fully what I’m made of,” he said, “show them what I got, hopefully, get some playing time on the field when I get up there.”