Eli Huggins enthusiastically rattled off his two favorite hobbies: “Hunting, and fishing.”
His affinity for the outdoors was one of three clues to where he’d like to play college football, and he needs to make a decision soon. Three months ago Huggins, a dominating, 6-foot-6 defensive lineman for West Forsyth, received his first college scholarship offer from Bucknell University—a small, private school in rural Pennsylvania.
Since then he’s balanced spring practice and summer workouts with escalating contact with coaches. He’s taken visits to North Carolina State and Kansas State, even meeting with legendary coach Bill Snyder.
“That was crazy, unbelievable,” Huggins said. “He’s one of the most famous coaches there is. To sit with him and talk football and life, it was an amazing experience. He’s a really interesting guy.”
Twenty-one offers have come since Bucknell mailed the first. Before football season even ends he’ll need to decide where he wants to continue his career. With high school classes slated to be out of the way by the end of the fall semester, Huggins plans to sign early and enroll early at the school of his choice.
Huggins always knew the recruiting attention would come, but adjusting to the time commitments and stress of being a wanted player has been just as challenging as learning pass rush techniques.
“It’s exciting but stressful at the same time,” Huggins said. “Seeing all of the work you’ve done since being a little guy pay off and come together is wonderful. At the other end of the spectrum, you have so many people counting on you, checking in on you, building relationships. When you get to the end of it, deciding where you want to go—everybody will have their opinion, and you’ve got to just make the best decision for yourself.”
The new-age of recruiting is a process millennial athletes are quite privy to—it’s now a digital game.
“Normally what happens is a coach will contact you first on Twitter,” Huggins said. “They’ll talk with you on that, whether it be for a couple of days or a couple of weeks. Then you start communicating with other coaches on the staff, they might send you a letter. They’ll set up phone interviews with you and then it’s all about getting you up to a camp or meeting you in person.”
Huggins admits he hasn’t been a big camper. He’s been to two this year and only four in his career.
Huggins doesn’t seem to fit one mold; his offers come from all walks of collegiate football. He has Ivy League offers from Brown and Columbia, service academy invitations from Air Force, Army and Navy. He’s wanted as far east as Bryant University (Rhode Island), south as Florida Atlantic, west as Air Force in Colorado Springs and as far north as Holy Cross in Massachusetts.
Do some Twitter digging, and official accounts of schools that have not yet offered show up on Huggins’ “followers” page: Harvard, Washington State, UAB, Kennesaw State, South Carolina, and Louisville.
He won’t narrow the list, but he’ll offer hints: he wants to be where there’s either an airport nearby or within driving distance of home so he can see his little brother as much as possible; he wants to be able to spend free days on the lake or in a tree in the woods; he also wants to receive a strong academic experience and prioritizes relationships more than anything else.
“Relationships are the most important,” Huggins said. “I know coaches can leave schools and stuff like that, so more than just looking at the schools it’s about the quality of the relationships I’m making and what feels right when the time comes.”
So far North Carolina State seems to be the frontrunner—it’s one of two offers from a Power 5 conference, and he’s on his way to Raleigh for a second visit Friday morning.
Huggins has met with the Wolfpack, Kansas State, Cincinnati, Middle Tennessee State, Western Kentucky and Tulane. Out of the two, NC State and Kansas State have been the only campus visits.
But Huggins knows more offers are coming.
“My original plan was actually, because I’m graduating early, to pick a place in June. Obviously with so many offers coming in, it has made things a little confusing. There’s so much to handle just researching what’s on the table, plus there could be more coming,” Huggins said.
Have at it, if you will, researching the proximity to airports, lakes and mileage from Forsyth County to make a hot list.
“I don’t know which school is going to be best, but I know what I’m looking for,” Huggins said.