ATLANTA — How special are special teams in a football game? Just ask the sole Princetonian now playing for the West Virginia Mountaineers.

“Very special,” Adam Hughes said.

“It obviously has won us a game or two this year, the Louisville game in particular,” Hughes said as practice got underway earlier this week in Atlanta for Monday’s Nokia Sugar Bowl game. The Princeton Senior High graduate is the backup long snapper for punts, and is also listed at tight end for West Virginia.

He noted, however, that along with the glory of a game-changing punt, kick or return comes the potential for disaster on every special-teams play. “One mess-up and it’s done,” Hughes said.

To a long-snapper, the world looks pretty much the same, whether the football field is called Hunnicutt Stadium, Mountaineer Field or the Georgia Dome.

It’s upside down.

Hughes has had that view for years now, and relishes it – especially the opportunity to be decked out in the old gold and blue of the Mountaineers.

“When I started out at Princeton High School, I was just playing football because it’s fun — as it always is. You know, I love playing the game. I had no idea what the future had in store for me,” the redshirt freshman said.

“It’s been a great honor to come here to West Virginia University and play. And I appreciate the coaches giving me the chance to be in this outstanding program. I just try to work my hardest every day, as I did in Princeton, and get better. And try to have a better day than the day before.”

He said he would tell today’s high school players, “Anybody can make the step (to college football) with the right amount of work. Pretty much, you have to live in the weight room, and just stay at the field 24 hours a day and work harder than anybody else and you’ll get where you need to go.”

Hughes is listed on the roster at 6-foot-1 and 225 pounds. He has gained about 15 pounds since arriving at the Morgantown weightlifting facilities and training table.

“Mike Barwis and his strength staff are absolutely the best in the country,” Hughes said. “I mean, there’s none better. They push us to limits that we didn’t know we had.” Hughes said his best bench press is 335 pounds and his squat press is 585.

The team’s work has resulted in a 10-1 record, Big East championship and an assignment to go against Georgia (10-2) in the Nokia Sugar Bowl, one of four major games in the elite Bowl Championship Series (BCS).

“It’s great for West Virginia University to be in our first BCS game in the history of the school,” Hughes said. “We’re happy to be here. We’re going to give it our best shot and play our best game and go out with a positive attitude.

“Georgia is a great team. Over the past few years they’ve always been a great team,” Hughes said.

Hughes said the practices this week at a northwest Atlanta prep school have been productive. “We’re just getting better every day.”

The Mountaineers’ visit as a team to the Georgia Dome to watch the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl game on Friday was Hughes’ first time in the cavernous structure which will also host Monday night’s Nokia Sugar Bowl.

However, Hughes has been an occasional visitor to Atlanta, due to his mother’s job with Georgia-Pacific, an Atlanta-based giant in manufacturing papers and chemicals. “It’s a great city, and we’re honored that they would have us here to play,” he said.

He’s kept his familiarity with the city low-key when talking with his teammates. “A few of them asked me, what’s good and what’s not,” he said. “If people ask me, I tell them.”

On the current trip, he said, “I haven’t been around downtown that much, except for when we’ve been on team functions, but I’ve seen it a hundred times before.”

Hughes said that the Mountaineers consider it “very important” to maintain a routine like any other football weekend – or as close to it as possible.

“You want to keep the same attitude for this game as you do for any game,” Hughes said. “You just want to stick to everything that has worked so far, and not change anything.”

On Monday, “We get to just sit around the hotel for most of the day and relax – and focus.” At game time, he said, “We’re going to play our game that we’ve played all year.”

And if called upon to take the field in the nationally-televised spectacular, Hughes said his duty will be simple.

“Do your job.”

—Contact Tom Bone at sports@bdtonline.com

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