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Monday, July 27, 2020

Highlands Alum Learning New Defensive Scheme at Eastern Michigan

Eagles Run 4-2-5 Defensive Set

Eastern Michigan Sports Information photo. Eastern Michigan freshman linebacker Brycen Huddleston, a 2020 Highlands graduate, is adapting to a new defensive scheme at the college level.

By G. Michael Graham

The reason the Eastern Michigan University Eagles recruited 2020 Highlands graduate Brycen Huddleston is a familiar one.

"The same skill set that made him successful at Highlands will bring him success here," said Neal Neathery, EMU Defensive Coordinator/Assistant Head Coach/Linebackers coach. "Brycen plays fast and makes plays.  Now we start the process to teach him our scheme.  I am very confident he will have great success here once he has learned our system."

Huddleston played in a 3-5 scheme that saw mostly linebackers on the field at Highlands in two-plus seasons as a starter. He stood in the middle of the formation watching plays develop before running toward the ball.

The freshman linebacker will have to adapt to a new scheme at the next level. The Eagles run a 4-2-5 scheme made to face the variety of spread offenses seen at the NCAA Division I Bowl Subdivision. That's a drop of three linebackers on the field.

"I feel the biggest key to adjusting to that is trying to just get to know the playbook better and getting a lot of reps at it because right now because of (the Coronavirus 2019 pandemic), not a lot of us have been able to have hands-on practice with all the stuff," Huddleston said. "It's led us to be doing a ton of film and try to get right by that. We'll sometimes try to get together and do as much as we can as a player-ran thing. It's helpful. But having a coach is a completely different story. Learning it from the coach with hands-on drills would be a lot better. But with the cards we've been handed, we're doing the best we can with it."

Huddleston ventured up to Ypsilanti, which is in between Detroit and Ann Arbor in southeast Michigan about three weeks ago. He noted he's been working out with some of the other newcomers at linebacker to prepare for the season. Huddleston said red-shirting has not been discussed with the coaches yet.

Huddleston is hoping to help the Eagles take another step toward the ultimate goal of winning the Mid-American Conference. Eastern Michigan has won a conference crown since 1987. That 1987 team posted the lone bowl win in program history with a 30-27 victory over San Jose State in the California Bowl. The Eagles are the only current conference team that has not played in the MAC championship game since it started in 1997.

Eastern Michigan Head Coach Chris Creighton took over after the 2013 season. In six seasons, the Eagles have posted a 28-47 under his guidance. But Eastern has posted at least six wins including two 7-6 marks in the last four years including three bowl appearances after the Eagles had appeared in just two prior to Creighton's tenure.

Eastern Michigan has two wins over Big Ten teams in recent years. The Eagles beat Illinois last year and Purdue in 2018.

Huddleston admitted he does not know former Highlands Head Coach Dale Mueller the way family members such as his older brother Billy do. But Huddleston thought of Mueller when he first met Creighton based on how his family talks about Mueller. Many former players said Mueller communicates things in a positive way.

"That's another really awesome guy whose not only priority is having an awesome football team but making men out of boys," Huddleston said of Creighton. "He wants you to be the best person you can be. A lot of coaches are going to sell the football end of (the school). I wouldn't say football is a secondary priority here because it's not at all. But he sold you on becoming a better man here. That was just something that I never felt from a team that I got a ton of looks from. But when he kept saying that to me, I just felt something. Once I got on campus and I got to meet him, he just reiterated to me how being here will be the best thing that will ever happen to me."

Huddleston also said he felt at home with the other coaches and players. He noted the current Eastern Michigan players came up to him and spoke to him unlike other places where only the position coach or the recruiting coordinators talked to the players.

"I don't think any other coach in the MAC can push his players like he can because he just knows us on such a personal level," Huddleston said. "I almost always see him and he comes up and has a conversation with me. It doesn't matter whether it's just saying hi or getting into something we were talking about during a meeting. I know a lot of upperclassmen always talk about how much he will get you to want to run through a wall for him. He gets on us. But that's what coaches do. Anytime he talks about any negative thing, there's always something good coming out of it. He's always the most optimistic person when he's talking to you."

Huddleston also had offers from another MAC team in Bowling Green State (Ohio) in addition to Youngstown State (Ohio) and Southeast Missouri in the NCAA Division I Football Championship Subdivision. Bowling Green Head Coach Scot Loeffler served as the Offensive Coordinator and Quarterbacks coach in 2016 during 2012 Highlands graduate Patrick Towles' lone season at Boston College.

During his four years at Highlands, Huddleston helped the Bluebirds to a 25-22 record. As a junior, Highlands drove to the region finals before losing 36-0 at Covington Catholic. During the regular season as a senior, Huddleston had 96 tackles including 58 solo, 12 for a loss and four quarterback sacks.

Huddleston is most likely planning on majoring in Elementary Education. He said he plans to figure that out this year.

Eastern Michigan is slated to open the season Sept. 3 at the University of Kentucky. The Eagles have five home games scheduled this year but also travel to Miami (Ohio) University on Nov. 21 and Ohio University on Oct. 10.

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