Coming out of high school, Michael Huff shied away from contact.
He had the speed to keep up with anybody but he avoided delivering the big hit.
Duane Akina changed that.
“When I came in, I was a skinny track guy that didn’t want to hit anybody,” Huff recalled. “He took me down to the pits and made me hit, made me tackle. First couple years, he was on me hard. He’s that father figure. That’s what you need coming out of high school at 18 or 19 years old.”
By the time Huff left Texas, he was a national champion, the first Thorpe Award winner in school history and a top 10 NFL Draft pick.
Not bad for a skinny track guy who didn’t want to hit anybody.
Huff was one of 13 Longhorns defensive backs selected in the NFL Draft who were mentored by Akina, whose 13-year tenure as a Texas assistant ended last week.
Akina had spent 35 years as an assistant coach, 26 of them coaching defensive backs, with the last 13 coming under Mack Brown at Texas. He also served as the Longhorns’ co-defensive coordinator from 2004-08.
Another Thorpe Award winner, Aaron Ross, is one of five defensive backs on Texas’ 2005 national championship team still playing in the NFL. Under Akina’s tutelage, he was recognized as the nation’s best defensive back the following year and went on to win two Super Bowls with the New York Giants.
Yet no coach, in the NFL or at any other level, compares to Akina in Ross’ eyes.
“I haven’t had a better coach since Coach Akina,” Ross said. “He’s very passionate. He’s a high-energy guy. He expects greatness. He’s a technician. He’s an ex-quarterback so he knows how to coach on what to do against a quarterback.”
New coach Charlie Strong has reportedly hired Vance Bedford to be his defensive coordinator and secondary coach. Bedford, who played defensive back at Texas from 1977-81, held the same position under Strong at Louisville.
“I want to thank all the support staff, players & coaches that have been so good to me and my family for the past 13 yrs. HOOKEM HORNS,” Akina tweeted last Friday. “Thank you all for the unbelievable support. It’s a grt feeling knowing your hard wrk is appreciated The DBs r in good hands w/coach Bedford”
Tarell Brown, another member of that title-winning Longhorns secondary, is playing for a chance at the first Super Bowl this week. Entering his third year as a starter with the San Francisco 49ers, Brown credits much of his success to the instruction he received from Akina.
“Akina groomed us from pups to lions and made us into the type of players we are today,” Brown said. “His intensity, it speaks for itself. Intensity, attention to detail every day and his passion for the game — he installs that into all his players. We’re very passionate about what we do.”