Sept. 11, 2006
by Tim Miguel, California Media Relations
[This story originally appeared in the September 9 issue of "Kickoff," the official California game day program]
When there's a unit as stacked up and down the depth chart like the University of California's defense, it's hard to choose one player that really stands out. But if you had to pick one player at the top, senior defensive back Daymeion Hughes would be a pretty good option.
Hughes comes into the 2006 season with a lot of expectations riding on his shoulders. Phil Steele's College Football Preview selected Hughes as the No. 1 rated cornerback in the country, and he has been deemed a first-team All-American by a number of other publications.
Hughes said the preseason hype doesn't get to him because all of the rankings and awards don't add any more pressure than he already puts on himself. He said he has his own set of goals that go hand-in-hand with the teams' goals for the season.
"I put the most pressure on myself," Hughes said. "I always want to go into everything I do as the hardest working person. That's how my mom raised me, so that's been in me. It's not a problem that people expect a lot from me because I expect a lot from myself. The team goals and my goals go hand-in-hand. If we win every game and I go out with no interceptions or tackles, it won't matter to me. That most important thing to me is the team. I feel like if I do well for my team, I'll be doing well for myself."
Hughes' coaches and teammates agree that Hughes isn't letting the preseason hype affect him.
"He's handling it well," Cal defensive coordinator Bob Gregory said. "(Defensive backs coach R. Todd) Littlejohn has done a great job in emphasizing that stuff isn't important. He's actually picked up his game in practice, and he's practicing harder. He knows he's got to live up to those expectations."
Added senior defensive end Brandon Mebane: "We all know that you have to stay humble with it because in time it could fall down, but I think he's handling the preseason hype really well."
Mebane likely knows Hughes as well as anyone on the Bears. Prior to teaming at Cal, they played football together at Crenshaw High School in Los Angeles.
The decision to come to Cal came a little bit earlier for Hughes, as he was the first to commit. The addition of Mebane on the roster must have made Hughes' day, as it was great to have his high school teammate joining him on the field again.
"It's been great for me, Mebane is a compliment to my game and I'm a compliment to his," Hughes said. "On the field, if he provides pressure, I can get interceptions, but if I cover well, the quarterback's going to hold the ball longer and he can get sacks. It was always like that throughout high school. He and I have a great relationship and we've always been friends. We hang out together outside of football. It's been fun."
When Hughes committed to Cal, the Bear who welcomed him most to the team was fellow defensive back, Tim Mixon, who served as Hughes' guide when he first arrived at Berkeley. Hughes said it really helped him to get experience and knowledge from somebody who played the same position as him in a noncompetitive sense.
After he first met Hughes, Mixon said his first impression of him was a quiet and well-articulated person. Although he said Hughes maintains the same personality today, he exerts more leadership and speaks up when he needs to get a message across to the other defensive backs.
"When we're with the DBs he's pretty vocal because he's a senior, and withholding information as a senior that would help younger players is selfish and he knows that," Mixon said. "If there's something that needs to be said, he says it."
Gregory also believes that Hughes has developed tremendously during his career as a Golden Bear.
"Everybody changes, but for him, he's just become a more of a mature player," Gregory said. "Anytime you're a young freshman in this league there's a lot of pressure on you, that position especially, and he has matured in his role over the years."
Last December, when the Bears defeated BYU in the Las Vegas Bowl, it was Hughes' interception late in the fourth quarter that sealed the 35-28 win. Some of his other highlights from last year include: five interceptions returned for 159 yards, including a 41-yarder returned for a touchdown at Washington, and a season-best 10 tackles and two broken up passes against top-ranked USC.
When he's not giving opposing receivers a hard time on the field, one of Hughes' favorite hobbies is to read real estate and investment books. He said he didn't read much when he was in high school and now it has helped a lot in his growing and maturing as a person.
Another one of his passions off the field involves his major, art practice. According to teammate and fellow art student, linebacker Greg Van Hoesen, Hughes isn't just into drawing pictures.
"Daymeion is more into urban fashion and I'm into oil painting," Van Hoesen said. "Some of our work turns out similar because we pick ideas from each other, but we have two different types of styles. The things that I like about his work are the things that I wish I could do. That's what makes it so great having him in class and on the football team. He does these t-shirts that are just great. He does t-shirts with guys from the team on the front. He just keeps getting better at it and I like what he comes out with."
After his final game of the 2006 season and when his time as a Golden Bear is over, Hughes said what he will miss the most is hanging out with his teammates. The NFL, if it beckons, is more about business.
If Hughes can live up to his expectations this year, he may not have as many close friends like he does now at Cal, but he will surely have more fans who will get to cheer for him on Sundays.