If Alcovy athletic director Kristopher Williams was looking to inject a little life into the Tigers’ baseball program with Wednesday’s hiring of Jimmy Hughes, he may have done that and then some.
Hughes has been around a bit. From graduating from Loganville, a Georgia high school baseball powerhouse in neighboring Walton County — and calling Loganville coach Jeff Segars a baseball mentor — to a pair of head coaching stops at Macon County and Shiloh, Hughes has been around the game enough to know what it’ll take to make Alcovy a winner again.
He’s also been in close enough proximity to Covington to realize the area is not void of potential or baseball talent. In fact, it is the “untapped potential” in the area he cites as his reason for throwing his hat in when the job came open.
Plus Hughes doesn’t want to be a coaching nomad. After two two-year tenures at those aforementioned schools, Hughes is ready to put down some baseball coaching roots. But those things alone aren’t what impressed me most about Hughes.
When he made his appointment to Alcovy baseball Twitter-official, he used the words “excited” and “fired up” to describe how he felt about being selected for the task.
Then you get him on the phone, and his tone of voice and the rapid pace of his speaking cadence prove it.
“Best is the standard,” Hughes says. “Everything we do at Alcovy — we’re going to get our best reps every time we’re in the cages and every time we’re in that 90-foot box. We’ll give our best to every fly ball hit into the gap. Everything is our best. That’s the standard across the board. Our team will have the best grade point average in the building. That’s a challenge I’m laying down from the beginning.”
The cool thing about it though, is that you easily get the sense that this “best” mantra isn’t just about Hughes or his team only. He’s not in pursuit of building an exemplary program so he and his Alcovy baseball squad can be on an island of excellence all by themselves.
Sandwiched between Hughes’ stories of being on the recruiting trail with Roquan Smith while at Macon County and describing Alcovy’s desired style of play with military terminology, the Loganville native gushed about how baseball wasn’t the only thing that attracted him to Alcovy, and it isn’t the only reason why he’s looking for high achievement.
“Just the job coach Williams and (football) coach Chris Edgar are doing in re-imaging Alcovy athletes as a whole, and the upping of the ante for the athletic department across the board, I see that and I want to be a part of that.”
In my almost two years covering sports in the area, I was told by some that Alcovy was deemed almost like the athletic stepchild in Covington and Newton County sports. And beyond it’s rural, sort of off-the-beaten-path setting and a lack of consistent success in its athletic teams over the last few years, one could see where that perception derives.
But if you spend time with Williams and Edgar, and even track coach Ricardo Branch who talks to his track and field athletes all the time about being the ones to set a standard for greatness that pervades the entire athletic department, you can also see that Alcovy is serious about being competitive, and doing what being competitive requires.
Making hires of guys like Hughes is included in that.
Beyond his energy, excitement and bravado, Hughes is also a man of deep faith.
After taking a year off from head coaching, he immersed his time into running the Game On travel ball club in Loganville. And it’s not the baseball training that’s his favorite part, but the character development part where he gets 15-20 minutes to help preteens and middle school athletes learn how to make right decisions.
It gives him the opportunity, he says, to let his light shine.
“All our coaches in that program are Christian, and we aren’t ashamed of that,” he said. “But we know we have to be careful. We’re not shoving our faith down their throats. But if a player or a kid has a question about Jesus, we give them that response.”
It never hurts to have a coach dedicated to helping the kids he tutors learn to be just as solid and integral off the field as on it — especially at a place like Alcovy where the building of student-athletes beyond the fields of competition has been a hallmark since Williams has been AD.
Now, to bring on a guy like Hughes who sees himself as a part of the whole solution of Alcovy athletics revival, it seems like Williams and company have further dug in their heels in terms of the direction Alcovy athletics needs.
Now Hughes focuses on such character type things like unity and family. He wants an uptick in work ethic. He wants double-digit winning seasons, region championships and deep playoff runs. But he wants to do it the right way, which means a less-than-bashful approach to handling players who don’t want the same thing.
“We have to elevate the status quo,” he said. “Like the row-the-boat thing coach P.J. Fleck does with Minnesota football. “We need to make sure everybody’s rowing in the same direction, and if they don’t want to, the answer is simple. Leave. We don’t need that negativity for what we’re trying to build.”
And if he builds it right, and Alcovy baseball begins to rise, don’t be surprised to see it take some of the other programs along for the ride. Momentum tends to work that way.
Gabriel Stovall is the sports editor of The Covington News. He can be reached for story tips and ideas at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @GabrielStovall1.