Note: The following appears in the NC State gameday football program
It is not how you start, it is how you finish.” When acclaimed author and motivational speaker Jim George made that statement, the intended subject could have been a multitude of people. In life, there are always challenges to overcome, no matter the circumstances.
Albert Huggins may be the perfect example of how finishing strong leads to success on the gridiron and in life for years to come. The senior defensive tackle from Orangeburg, S.C., may not be as well known as some of his fellow linemates on what many consider to be the best in the nation, but his play and determination could very well lead to another College Football Playoff appearance for the Tigers and an NFL career.
When he was deciding where he would attend college, the choices were many. The Orangeburg-Wilkinson High School product was a first-team All-American as a senior and was rated the No. 1 player in South Carolina by Rivals.
“Looking back four years later, Clemson is still the right choice for me,” remarked Huggins. “Making the decision was a difficult one. I was looking for a place where I would feel at home. There are some places where a recruit will go on a visit and it is different when they enroll. Coach (Dabo) Swinney and all of the other coaches made me feel like I was part of the family then, and it is still the same feeling now.”
The small-town atmosphere of Clemson is another reason Huggins has excelled in the Upstate of South Carolina. Orangeburg and Clemson are separated by 140 miles, but the similarities between the two South Carolina towns made the adjustment fairly easy.
“Clemson has allowed me to grow as a person. In Orangeburg, it was not unusual for me to walk down the street to speak to all kinds of people. It is the same way here. Other than being a little homesick as a freshman, something a lot of young people go through, the transition has been easy. Clemson really is a second home.”
The transition on the field has also been a continuous climb. A position group that includes Christian Wilkins and Dexter Lawrence among others has driven Huggins to be the best he can be. His determined effort has led to more and more playing time, and it has increased his profile as a player who has the opportunity to play at the next level.
“I have taken responsibility for what I am doing and am determined to get better. It is all about competition every day and every practice. If you don’t give it your all, you are going to be exposed. I have grown into wanting it more.
“When I was younger in high school, it was all fun and games. I still have fun now, but I now have a drive to be the best each time I step on the field.”
Swinney has noticed the improvement displayed by Huggins and could not be more pleased with what he has become on and off the field.
“I am really proud of Albert,” said Swinney. “He has played with such great effort. Last season, it looked like the light had come on for him. That continued in spring practice and fall camp. He is such a disruptive player. It is like we have three starters at defensive tackle.”
While competition is a key to success, the culture at Clemson has led a close-knit group that supports each other at all times.
“All of the defensive linemen have such a tight bond,” said Huggins. “Coach (Dan) Brooks had a lot to do with that and coach (Todd) Bates has cultivated that bond. We are able to talk about anything, football or life. The relationship we have will always be there.”
A bond developed by the Tiger staff and close-knit relationships that will last a lifetime are reasons that Huggins was determined to earn more and more playing time instead of looking for a place where the path could be easier.
“When you are not playing much, there are always going to be doubts, but I knew I was in a great situation. I may not be the first guy on the field, but that does not matter. I am earning playing time and making a difference when I am out there. The defensive linemen pull for each other and make each other better every day.”
When asked to describe himself, some of the first attributes that came to Huggins’ mind were laid back, funny, quiet and a hard worker. It is easy to see where the gregarious gentle giant has found his motivation. An only child, Huggins is driven by making his father, Albert Huggins Sr., and mother, Eulara, proud.
“My mom and dad are my motivation. When someone asks them if they are Albert Huggins’ parents, I want them to be proud when they say ‘yes.’ I want to be the best person and best football player I can be. What they have done for me is why I am where I am today. They have given everything to me, and I want to do the same for them now and in the future.”
There is no doubt Huggins’ parents are proud. Entering today’s game against nationally-ranked NC State, Clemson has posted a 46-4 record with a national title, three College Football Playoff appearances and three ACC titles during his time in Tigertown. But the proudest day will come in December, when he walks across the stage in Littlejohn Coliseum to receive his diploma in parks, recreation & tourism management.
“To be where I am now is a blessing. I have worked hard and have a drive to be the best I can be, no matter what I do. To play 14 games or more each year I have been here and only lose four games is really special. But earning that degree will be such a special day.”