Hanging Ten on the Football Field

Quarterback Braxton Hughes rides the Black Hat wave
Braxton Hughes, graduate student and quarterback, grew up surfing on the Outer Banks of North Carolina.
Braxton Hughes, graduate student and quarterback, grew up surfing on the Outer Banks of North Carolina.
Photo courtesy of Braxton Hughes

The trigger man is locked and loaded for the season. 

Braxton Hughes, quarterback and graduate student, transferred in from the University of Richmond for his final season.

Braxton Hughes, graduate student, throws the ball down field during a game. (Photo courtesy of JD Sportz Photography)

“After my fifth year, I was looking to transfer somewhere that had the same masters program that I was already in over there (Masters of Teaching) because I really value academics!” says Hughes, who hails from the Kill Devil Hills on the Outer Banks of North Carolina.

Transferring  from a D1 school to D3 school for football took some convincing.

“I knew Kenneth Lokie, sophomore, from back home, so I reached out to him, and he sold me on the idea. I reached out to the coaches, and we made it happen,” says Hughes. 

How did it happen though? Out of all the schools what made Hughes choose the Panthers?

“Kenneth Lokie’s father reached out to and advocate for him because he went to the same high school that Lokie went to. Mr. Lokie reached out to me talking about Braxton as a person and a player. We then reached out to make connections. (Coach J.D.) Shaw touched base with him first to set the tone for the recruiting relationship, and then as head coach, I reached out second,” says Coach Cleive Adams.

When switching schools, one important aspect is making sure credits transfer.

“We had to make sure that he was going to be able to transfer in here in our educational masters program and wasn’t going to be set back. We talked with (Martha) Bowling about whether or not it made sense for him to leave that program to come to ours. At that point, it was a no brainer,” says Adams.

For Hughes, the college and coaches were speaking his language, and language is something he takes seriously.

“I speak three languages fluently: English, Spanish, and Portuguese, but I dabble in many others. I have always had a passion for learning languages since I was very young,” says Hughes.

Often when a person learns more than one language, it’s for a job or for travel, but Hughes used and uses it another way.

“Growing up, I spoke with my Spanish-speaking friends frequently and was able to learn the language, which led me to majoring in Latin American, Latino, and Iberian Studies at the University of Richmond. I learned Portuguese for Spanish-Speakers and by also speaking with my Brazilian and Portuguese friends,” says Hughes.

Now Hughes is learning a new language.


“I have a duty to be there for my teammates on and off the field. I understand that the younger guys and even guys my age are looking up to me to do the right thing,” he says.

In games, all eyes are on the quarterback. If something goes wrong, most people look at the QB for blame or answers. Hughes knows what that feels like.

“Being a QB is a job that I am very passionate about,” he says. “Something that most people don’t understand about being a QB is the amount of pressure that comes with the job. Don’t get me wrong, I love this aspect of playing QB because when it comes down to it, I want my teammates and coaches to know I’ll do whatever it takes to win.”

Braxton Hughes, graduate student, catches a wave off the coast of North Carolina. (Photo courtesy of Braxton Hughes)

Athletes have different reasons and influences as to why they play or love the game. Hughes says his influence came from the NFL.

“My love of football comes from when I started watching Tom Brady. Brady is one of my heroes and is one of the main reasons that I fell in love with the game. I love football because of the camaraderie and brotherhood that is created while also striving to meet the common goal of victory. It’s just a beautiful game!” he says.

On the field, Hughes is a dog, but off the field, he’s a dog lover.

“I love all animals! I’m a vegetarian because I love animals so much,” he says.

 Those kinds of convictions had an impact on the coaching staff.

“I was impressed by how down to earth he was. Obviously, being in college he’s mature, and I didn’t realize the collective personality he has. He’s into music, community service; there’s a lot of things he does that you don’t see other college kids doing,” says Shaw, offensive coordinator and QB coach.

When Hughes came in, Shaw already had expectations for him–not just as an athlete but something more.

“It’s something we needed. I think the nature of the quarterback position is a leadership position,” Shaw says. “Having his maturity, he understood what we were looking for coming in. Having gotten to know him through the recruiting process, it’s something that I expected to see.”

The offensive line and quarterback need to secure the most trust in the team, because without either one, there’d be no way to get the ball to the playmakers.

“What I convey to my offensive lineman is how tough Braxton is,” Offensive Line Coach Jack Turner says. “He’s not afraid to run the ball; he’s not afraid to get dirty. You know, he sits in the pocket and doesn’t get antsy. I always convey that to our O-line–that we have to do a good job protecting because of the quality he brings to the team.”

When things go wrong on offense, many players start to point fingers, but Hughes is different–he takes responsibility.

“He accepts ownership for everything that goes wrong within our offense. It’s a mark of a great leader. You know he’s not looking to point blame on anybody else,”says Turner.

The coaching staff has said that last year, the Panthers were lacking that QB-to-wide-receiver relationship, causing problems within the offense.

“It’s great. He does a great job of holding the WRs (wide receivers) accountable,” Wide Receiver Coach Jesse Santiago says. “That’s something we were lacking last year. You know, he’s constantly trying to uplift those guys and keep guys positive. He even stays after practice to get work in with the guys. The WRs love him for who he is and the leadership he brings.”

Defensive Back Coach AJ Hopke has also taken notice of Hughes’ leadership role.

“The part for me was the way he came in from Day One and went to work,” Hopke says. “(He) did all the hard things and made them look easy. The most impressive part was how he handled that leadership and how he handled that spotlight. Not one time have I seen him make a mistake and not claim it–or a teammate make a mistake and not claim it.”

Defensive coordinators can lose a lot of sleep when facing a tough QB.

“The big thing with Braxton is he’s seen a lot of things at another level, and he’s an older cat. What he does during practice when we are facing each other–he’s really able to see the movement and pre-snap alignments of our players, and because of that, you have to game plan and mess with his pre-snap reads as much as possible,” Defensive Coordinator and Linebacker Coach Anthony Konieczka says.

The coaching staff is glad to have Hughes on its side of the line of scrimmage, and so is Hughes’ friend of eight years, Lokie.

“When Brax told me he was coming to Ferrum, I was electric. I was excited to not only play with him again after all those years, but I knew he would bring a lot of knowledge and leadership to our game,” Lokie says.

Lokie credits Hughes with being a great friend but also an inspiration.

“His leadership and passion for the game is what drove me to want to play college football!” Lokie says. “Any person that has met Brax knows how nice of a guy he is. He has an incredible heart and love for things he is passionate about–that being other things like other people, animals, football, etc.”

Another thing he enjoys is surfing. Being from the OBX means ocean, and ocean means waves.

“Surfing is something you kind of do growing up with your friends,” Hughes says. “I mean, I got buddies who are amazing at it. I do it for leisure. I’m not like an all-star surfer by any means. I just do it for fun.”



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