Being winner not new for Lightning coach Football: Organization, teaching -- and the weight room -- are keys to program, victories, says Pete Hughes.

September 19, 1996|By Rick Belz | Rick Belz,SUN STAFF

Long Reach-football coach Pete Hughes thinks the first-year Lightning will be battling for a county championship in a season or two.

He should know. Hughes has been successful as a player and a coach wherever he's been.

As a player, the football team at Division II Valley City (N.D.) State University went 36-4 during his four years and made the national playoffs twice. Hughes, a four-time all-league pick at strong safety, was named an All-American his senior year.

He was then head coach for four years at Finley-Sharon High School, about 60 miles from Valley City, where his teams compiled a 30-6 record in a turn-around for a program that had been 24-39. Hughes was named Class B North Dakota Coach of the Year in 1985.

"I was especially proud to win the Coach of the Year award, because I was probably the only black coach in North Dakota," said Hughes, who was born in Baltimore and graduated from Woodlawn High School.

Moving back east, he was for the last 10 years defensive coach at Hammond High, which has had one of the county's most consistent winning programs, as well.

So far, Long Reach has won its first game against River Hill and narrowly lost to an older Mount Hebron team, 9-3, the second game of the season.

The personable Hughes said successful programs are built upon a family atmosphere in which the staff enjoys working with each other and the players enjoy working with the staff.

And the next most important building block is a good weight-lifting program.

"It starts in the weight room, because that's where you build confidence," Hughes said.

His team needs that confidence, because Long Reach has no senior class, and only 10 of the 26 varsity players have played organized football before. "It's like a junior varsity team," he said.

Assembling a staff and organizing the team have provided the greatest challenges for Hughes.

He has spent countless hours off the field talking with parents and boosters, working in the weight room with players, dealing with equipment and planning practice schedules. He even put together a 30-page football program by himself.

After 10 years as a defensive coordinator, he forgot how many more things a head coach is responsible for.

"It's an overwhelming experience, getting a staff together. I haven't seen my wife [Donna] much lately," he said. "But she came to the opening game, her first game in eight years, and she wanted a Long Reach hat and shirt, so she's getting into it now."

In the season's third week, he's enjoying the actual coaching part of the job. He's the defensive coordinator, and Ed Ashwell, the former Glenelg head coach, runs the offense. Former Howard head coach Joe Thomas is the JV coach.

You would never guess it by his mild manner off the field -- he teaches physical education and health at Long Reach -- but on game days, Hughes transforms into the classic football coach.

"I'm a Jekyll and Hyde. You could say I'm an intense perfectionist, a student of the game. This opportunity means a lot. It's a chance to start a new tradition."

Hughes feels secure with his ability, or he wouldn't have assembled a coaching staff that includes two former head coaches.

"There might be some doubts around the county about me, but I'm ready to prove myself," he said. "There are some great coaches here in Howard County.

"I was happy at Hammond and was waiting for the right opportunity, or for coach [Joe] Russo to retire. It didn't feel like I'd been there 10 years."

Russo, Hammond's coach since that school opened in 1976, said: "Pete deserved the Long Reach job. He's a good coach and a hard worker and will do a good job."

Hughes also was a successful track coach at Hammond. His indoor girls teams won three county titles, two regionals and one state championship. His outdoor boys teams won two county and two regional titles.

Hughes turns 40 on Oct. 8, but he looks much younger. He keeps in shape with a regimen of weightlifting and racquetball, and he plays for the Columbia Cardinals, an over-30 baseball team.

He played football and baseball at Woodlawn High before attending Valley City State. Former Howard High fullback John Overbey was his college roommate.

Pub Date: 9/19/96

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