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HISTORY WITH HAYES: The Huffs are considered the first family of kickers from Southwest Virginia

HISTORY WITH HAYES: The Huffs are considered the first family of kickers from Southwest Virginia

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Many a good meal were consumed at Ma and Pa’s Drive-In, but the proprietors of the restaurant in Castlewood, Virginia, Ma and Pa so to speak – Juanita and Roy Huff – also served up something special to the world of big-time college football many years ago thanks to the skills of their two sons.

Jim Huff handled the kicking duties at Castlewood High School, Ferrum Junior College, University of Miami and had a training-camp stint with the NFL’s Green Bay Packers.

Johnny Huff split the uprights while at Castlewood High School, Ferrum Junior College and North Carolina State University.

Jim and Johnny Huff’s nephews also excelled at booming kicks – Eddie Huff did so at Sullivan East High School, Ferrum and East Tennessee State University, while Rick Huff was a standout on special teams at Lebanon High School in the early-1970s.

Southwest Virginia has produced some guys blessed with powerful legs who played at college football’s highest level – current Penn State University star Jordan Stout from Honaker, ex-Virginia High stars Alex Walls (University of Tennessee) and Ian Frye (University of Virginia), Joey Worley from Garden at the University of Kentucky and Abingdon High School graduate Skyler Simcox at Western Kentucky just to name a few.

However, the first family of area kickers was the Huffs as they used the straight-on, square-toed method of the day to pile up the points.

The eighth of 11 children born to Ma and Pa, Jim Huff’s unlikely football journey began as a sophomore in high school in the fall of 1963.

“The coaches there talked my father into letting me come out as a kicker,” Jim Huff said. “My dad never wanted me to play football. I had an older brother, Gene, who played years before and the first day of practice he broke his nose. He said he didn’t want any of his sons to play football, but the coaches convinced him to let me be the placekicker.”

It was rare for a team to have a kid who solely kicked back in those days and most coaches eschewed the PAT kick altogether and just handed it to a stud running back once again after a TD. Huff is credited with kicking the first field goal in Castlewood history in 1964.

“There weren’t a lot of kickers in high school, but it was something I had an interest in doing,” Jim Huff said. “I basically learned on my own from observation. I watched football on television and my coach, Tommy Fletcher, understood a lot about the fundamentals and was able to help me.”

It didn’t take Jim long to master his craft and he was a reliable weapon as Castlewood went 9-0 in 1965 and won the District Seven title. He tied a string around his front cleat and wrap it around his ankle to get his toe up and put more air under the ball.

“I can remember the day that Jim kicked a 50-yard field goal,” said teammate Wayne Whitaker. “Coach stopped practice and let the entire team witness this accomplishment.”

Huff wasn’t always able to avoid contact, however.

“Jim never wore shoulder pads even during the game,” Whitaker said. “We played a game and on kickoff Jim picked up his kicking block planning on leaving the field and realized the returner had gotten by the Castlewood defense. Jim pursued the ball carrier and made the tackle. Otherwise he would have scored a touchdown. Mind you Jim had no shoulder pads.

“I also remember Jim practiced kicking field goals from different angles on the field.”

Huff could hold his own as he was quite the athlete, starring in baseball and basketball for the Blue Devils as well.

“Our senior year, I snapped for extra point attempts,” said teammate Bill Keith. “With the game well in hand and without Jimmy’s knowledge, I snapped the ball directly to him just to see him get his uniform dirty and be tackled. Jimmy caught the snap, coolly dropped back a few steps and threw a pass into the end zone.”

There was no plan to kick in college as Huff arrived at Ferrum Junior College as a baseball player.

“They found out I had been a kicker in high school and assistant coach Rick Tolley asked me to try out,” Huff said.

Tolley had been an assistant coach at John Battle High School a few years prior and eventually became the head coach at Marshall University and was among the 75 people who died in a tragic 1970 plane crash.

Tolley had an obvious eye for talent.

Huff was 35-for-41 on extra points and 6-for-9 on field goals with a long of 48 yards in a game against Gardner-Webb during his second and final season at Ferrum and NCAA Division I coaches took notice.

“I would have loved to have been a Virginia Tech Hokie,” Huff said. “Jerry Claiborne was the football coach at Virginia Tech in 1968 and I went for a visit at the school and I told him that I was getting married in December 1968 and they said they had no married football players on their team. They were surprised they were looking at an athlete who was getting married, so they never offered me a scholarship.

“A couple of weeks after that, I did my recruiting trip to the University of Miami and they offered me a scholarship on the spot and I accepted. After Virginia Tech found I had accepted the scholarship they offered, but I had already signed my letter of intent. The kicker at Ferrum before me, Ray Harris from Vinton, Virginia, had gone to Miami and did well in his two years, so they took a chance on another Ferrum kicker.”

By the time it was all said and done, Huff scored 84 points in two seasons at Miami as he booted 15 field goals and went 39-for-40 on extra points over the course of the 1968 and 1969 campaigns.

“My experience took me to the Coliseum in Los Angeles when O.J. Simpson was a senior for Southern California, we played against Penn State when Joe Paterno was a relatively new coach there and we played in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, when Bear Bryant was coaching at the University of Alabama,” Jim Huff said. “Those were all great experiences.”

Simpson had 163 rushing yards and two touchdowns in that 1968 game in front of 71,189 spectators. Huff accounted for Miami’s only points in a 28-3 loss to the Trojans.

Huff’s 27-yard field goal in the third quarter was the difference in a 10-7 win over Georgia Tech as most of his family attended the game in Atlanta, he made three field goals in a win over the nationally-ranked LSU Tigers and he had two field goals in a 13-8 win over Virginia Tech in a game played in the Orange Bowl.

“I have many VT Hokie friends here in Roanoke and I have in a very modest way shared my Miami-Virginia Tech 1968 game experience with many of them,” Huff said. “Yes, it was very satisfying for me to have two field goals and an extra point in our win against a Tech team that I wish had provided me the chance to be a Hokie.”

Huff was there when Miami integrated its football program as Ray Bellamy was the first Black player for the Hurricanes and future NFL All-Pro running back Chuck Foreman was the second. Future Hall of Famer Ted Hendricks was also a teammate of Huff’s with the ‘Canes and was one of the top defensive players in college football history.

Jim Huff was among 10 prospective kickers the Green Bay Packers brought into training camp as he got to rub shoulders with quarterback Bart Starr and wide receiver Carroll Dale from Wise, Virginia. He was among the final four kickers left, but was eventually let go.

Yet, the Huff name still appeared in boxscores in major newspapers across the country for a couple of years.

Johnny Huff was five years younger than Jim and followed in his brother’s footsteps.

Roy Huff had relented by then and the baby of the family was both the quarterback and kicker for the Castlewood Blue Devils, starring alongside running back Paul Adams on the 1970 Clinch Valley District championship squad.

He was the winning pitcher, firing a five-hitter as Castlewood posted a 3-2 victory over Goochland in the 1971 VHSL Group A state baseball title game on the campus of Virginia Tech.

“Johnny was a standout in all sports,” said teammate Lincoln Self. “He had a natural talent. He was quarterback and kicker in football, was a guard in basketball, was a pitcher in baseball, ran relays in track and was an avid golfer. I was not surprised at all about his success after high school. He could have excelled in several sports.”

A few months after winning that state baseball championship, Huff would be booting the ball at Ferrum.

“I know my brother put in a good word for me with [Ferrum head coach] Hank Norton,” Johnny Huff said.

Huff scored 96 points in two seasons at Ferrum and booted a 44-yard field goal in a win over Wesley. Jerry Kirk (who later was the gridiron boss at Emory & Henry College) had been an assistant at Ferrum and when he was hired at N.C. State recruited Huff to come to Raleigh with him.

North Carolina, Duke and fittingly Miami offered Johnny Huff, but the Wolfpack won out.

The team’s head coach was Lou Holtz.

“He was one interesting man, he surely was,” Johnny Huff said. “As the years went by he got to be a great coach and more well known, but I really enjoyed playing for him. He was a gambler with a lot of his plays.”

Huff went 3-for-5 on field goals and 23-for-25 on extra points in his final season in 1974.

His last football game occurred on Dec. 23, 1974 in the Astro-Bluebonnet Bowl at the iconic Astrodome.

“It seemed like the ball flew forever in that place,” Johnny Huff said.

Huff got the scoring started with a 37-yard field goal in the first quarter as N.C. State battled to a 31-31 tie with the Houston Cougars.

There would be one more Huff go the Division I route as Eddie Huff went from Sullivan East to Ferrum to East Tennessee State University. His dad, Roy Huff Jr., was the brother of Jim and Johnny.

“Johnny and I were pretty close to the same age, he was two years older,” Eddie Huff said. “As I was growing up, I spent a lot of my summers in Castlewood with my grandparents and uncles and I took an interest in kicking. They helped me a little bit and the rest was history.”

Huff was a Junior College All-American at Ferrum and handled kicking duties at ETSU in 1975 and 1976 for head coach Roy Frazier’s Buccaneers. He missed kicking in the Mini-Dome by one year.

“I really ended up at East Tennessee State so I could kick in the Dome, but it never happened,” Eddie Huff said. “The Dome was somewhat inviting to me with the climate, but they had some leaks and construction was delayed, so I never got to play there.”

Rick Huff got his kicks at Lebanon and actually played against Johnny Huff at Castlewood.

“My dad built a goalpost across from our house on telephone poles and we all started messing around with it,” Rick Huff said. “It was a thing we all got into.”

Jim Huff has worked in the insurance business in Roanoke, Virginia, for years since his playing days ended.

Johnny Huff helped his parents run Ma and Pa’s, but retired and sold the business a few years ago after 52 years of the family running the place.

The first family of kicking certainly has plenty of stories to tell and memories to share when they gather for a good meal these days.

“To look back at it,” Johnny Huff said. “It was a great experience for us.”

Now, for a look at high school football moments which occurred this week in history:

Oct. 6, 1950

Jimmy Weddle, Dick Chambers and Harold Wells scored Tennessee High’s touchdowns in a 20-7 win over Science Hill. … Dave Woolwine accounted for all of William King’s points as the school from Abingdon posted an 18-6 victory over Meadowview. … Behind two touchdowns from Bobby Dan Coates, the Sullivan Pirates posted a 19-14 triumph over Rogersville.

Oct. 11, 1968

In one of Southwest Virginia’s most famous games ever played, Gate City and Appalachia battled to a 6-6 deadlock in front of 12,000 spectators. Edd Clark scored in the first quarter for Appalachia, while Gate City’s touchdown came via a pass from Mike Foster to Alex Boradwater in the second quarter. … Rodney Hogston and David Barrett scored touchdowns, while Arthur Olinger kicked two extra points in Saltville’s 14-6 win over Rich Valley. … John Barrett scored two touchdowns in Tazewell’s 20-7 victory over Marion.

Oct. 9, 1970

Gary Kidd scored two touchdowns in Sullivan Central’s 30-16 vanquishing of Virginia High. … David Halstead and Jeff Stanley scored two touchdowns apiece as John Battle recorded a 26-6 win over Richlands. … George Adams intercepted a pass and Charles Martin recovered a fumble in Tennessee High’s 20-0 blanking of Elizabethton. Mike Massengill’s two touchdowns were also key for the Vikings.

Oct 13, 1989

Todd Lee rushed for 132 yards and two touchdowns as Virginia High overpowered Appalachia for a 26-12 victory. … Two big plays helped Tennessee High take a 14-7 win over Science Hill as Wally Proffitt threw a 47-yard touchdown pass to Brian Hess and Brad Dunn ripped of a 72-yard touchdown run. … Wesley Greear threw for 196 yards and three touchdowns in Coeburn’s 32-11 crushing of Castlewood.

thayes@bristolnews.com | Twitter:@Hayes_BHCSports | (276) 645-2570

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