- Max Olson, ESPN Staff Writer
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Before Texas begins its first season under Charlie Strong, we're taking a deep dive into all the talent he inherits in 2014. Our Burnt Orange Breakdown series will take a closer look at each scholarship player returning this fall and what we can expect from him. We're going down the roster from No. 1 Shiro Davis all the way to No. 99 Desmond Jackson.
No. 40 Naashon Hughes
Redshirt freshman linebacker
Recruitment rewind: A three-star linebacker from nearby Harker Heights, Texas, Hughes initially joined the Longhorns' 2013 class on the agreement that he would grayshirt and defer enrollment to the winter of his freshman year. He stuck by that pledge even when Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, LSU, Baylor and South Carolina extended full scholarship offers, because he and teammate Darius James were going to Texas no matter what. During his December official visit, after a strong senior season, Longhorns coach Mack Brown informed Hughes he'd been bumped up to a full scholarship.
Career so far: Hughes redshirted as a freshman and is checking in these days at 6-foot-4 and 230 pounds. He's bulked up 20 pounds since the start of his senior year, and he showed in the spring game that he hasn't lost any speed. Hughes worked with the No. 2 defense as as a pass-rushing outside linebacker and recorded four tackles.
Best-case scenario for 2014: Hughes is a unique athlete, a defender with size, speed and plenty of room to keep growing. Texas has lots of linebackers, but not many like him who can play on the edge and even in some nickel packages. If the defensive scheme calls for it, Hughes could develop a niche job this season as a situational hybrid 'backer and work his way toward a larger role while backing up Peter Jinkens.
Worst-case scenario for 2014: Even if he doesn't find a fit in the defense in his debut season, Hughes figures to be a special teams contributor, and potentially a pretty good one. Texas has few more young players built like Hughes -- Edwin Freeman and Erik Huhn -- who could compete with him for snaps, but right now he'd have a solid lead over both.
Future expectations: Hughes was an underrated take out of high school who's poised to become an underrated contributor this season. If he stays healthy and continues to develop, you're going to hear a lot more from Hughes a year from now. Texas has a bunch of veterans in its linebacker room, but the lineup is fairly wide-open when you start looking ahead to 2016. That means Hughes has two years to break out if he wants one of those spots.
Before Texas begins its first season under Charlie Strong, we're taking a deep dive into all the talent he inherits in 2014. Our Burnt Orange Breakdown series will take a closer look at each scholarship player returning this fall and what we can expect from him.