Tonganoxie Quarterback Jeff Hughes' savvy in and out of the pocket comes as no surprise. With his father, Steve Hughes, serving as Tonganoxie High's previous head coach, Jeff has grown up around the game, attending practices since he could walk.
"He's got great football instincts," said Tonganoxie coach Mark Elston, who replaced Hughes as coach in 2000. "He'll do stuff in practice where you're like, 'How in the world did he see that?'"
The Chieftains (8-1) will need all of Hughes' football smarts when they visit Holton to play their Class 4A playoff opener tonight.
Holton (9-0) has won its last 23 games and garnered at least 11 wins in each of the last five years.
"They're fundamentally perfect on offense," Elston said. "They don't make mistakes."
Holton's potent offense relies on a large offensive line to clear holes for its committee of running backs.
Madison Morris, a shifty, speedy runner, leads an effective attack, which makes throwing the ball nearly unnecessary.
"They're a run-only offense," Elston said. "They probably pass three, four times a game at the most."
While reviewing film, Elston noticed that Holton even ran during third-and-25 situations.
"That doesn't faze them in the slightest," Elston said. "They're not scared of anything."
Although the Chieftains face a challenge in slowing Holton's grind-it-out offensive assault, they have a stout defense. Their unit, which does not possess great size or speed, excels in gang tackling.
"We fly to the football," Elston said. "We've done a pretty good job this year of getting more than one person in on the tackle."
Hughes makes the team fly on offense.
Like Holton, Tonganoxie emphasizes the run.
But the Chieftains rely on a triple-option offense, and Hughes must decide whether to hand off, pass or run it himself.
"The quarterback's kind of the main factor in the whole offense," Hughes said.
Hughes played special teams on the varsity level during his freshman and sophomore years before becoming the starting quarterback last year.
But the senior produced what he calls his best game of his career last Thursday. In a 42-7 victory against Jefferson West, he rushed 12 times for 243 yards and three touchdowns despite batting a respiratory illness.
"I didn't think I'd have too good of a game," Hughes said, "because I wasn't feeling really good."
The quarterback has returned to health, which bodes well for his team and those rooting for Hughes.
His father, Steve, will watch today's game as an informed spectator.
"It's been good for Steve to watch his son play and see the success," Elston said. "It'd be a fitting tale to be able to pull one off for him."