For more than a year, Max Huggins kept his feelings to himself.
A longtime South Carolina fan, the Myrtle Beach kicker and punter understood the Gamecocks could pull their offer for him to walk on to the team at any moment. Kickers aren’t exactly at the top of the priority list when it comes to college recruiting.
Just in case something happened, Huggins didn’t want to limit his chances of NCAA Division-I football.
“My dad went to South Carolina. He raised me to be a Gamecock fan my entire life,” said Huggins, who committed to Steve Spurrier’s team in late January. “They had always been my No. 1. It definitely made my decision easier. I always wanted to go to Carolina, but I didn’t want to say that out loud. I definitely would have gone to Clemson if I didn’t have Carolina.”
Huggins had a scholarship offer from Presbyterian. USC, Clemson and Football Championship Subdivision program Liberty offered him preferred the walk-on tag.
Huggins went with his heart.
He plans to move to Columbia the first week of July and enroll in the second session of summer school. It will allow him to acclimate at a slightly slower pace, but also to get closer to the action.
In the meantime, he’ll continue to be a part of an independent program that he said made him a college-ready player.
For four years, Huggins has been involved with the Myrtle Beach Kicking Academy, a curriculum developed and run by North Myrtle Beach Athletics Director Joe Quigley and Myrtle Beach Athletics Director John Cahill.
The academy has been responsible for ushering a handful of Grand Strand specialists into the college ranks. Most notably, North Myrtle Beach’s Ryan Quigley is now on the New York Jets’ roster as a punter after playing at Boston College. Former Myrtle Beach kicker Spencer Benton recently signed with the Dallas Cowboys after wrapping up his Clemson career.
Cahill, who played at The Citadel from 1992-1995, believes Huggins has the chance to be just as productive on the college level.
“He does the stuff outside of your typically practice and weight room – the spin classes, the yoga, the cross-fit,” Cahill said. “If he continues with his work ethic, he has the ability to be one of the strongest kickers and all-conference in the SEC. He has that much potential.”
Huggins was 100-for-112 on extra points and 16-of-26 on field goals in his last two years at Myrtle Beach. That included a 57-yard field goal in the 2012 regular-season finale that appeared to be good from at least another 10 yards. He also connected on five-of-seven tries from 40-yards or longer as a senior.
And last month, on an empty Doug Shaw Memorial Stadium field, Huggins said he also connected on a wind-aided 70-yarder that he said would probably have been good from 58 or 59 yards normally.
Power, though, has never been an issue. At 6-foot-1 and 190 pounds, Huggins was bigger than all but one of Myrtle Beach’s starting linebackers last season. He’s a constant in the weight room – a product of his continued development following a broken ankle playing soccer in 2011.
However, Huggins’ diversity may be what ultimately helps him reach the field at Williams-Brice Stadium. He also had 41 punts for an average of 39.4 yards last season and routinely put his kickoffs into the back of the end zone.
It should help his chances, especially with fellow preferred walk-on Elliott Fry also arriving on campus this summer. Like Huggins, Fry has performed all three duties, although his strength appears to be punting.
Huggins’ high-school coach, Mickey Wilson, expects his three-way specialist to have a realistic shot at early playing time.
“They need a kickoff guy,” Wilson said. “They feel pretty good about field goals, extra points and punting. But he’ll have an opportunity to compete for that job. After that, he’ll work through all of it and figure out what he’s best at.”
Said Huggins: “I don’t think they’re going to hand anything to me. Kickoffs are still not guaranteed for next year. Hopefully I can go in there and get a job.”