Friday, November 10, 2023

Furman's Huff earns Armed Forces Merit Award

Furman quarterback Tyler Huff holds the Armed Forces Merit Award
he was presented with Thursday. Photo courtesy of Furman

Last week, Tyler Huff mentioned how excited he was for Furman's Southern Conference championship showdown at Chattanooga last Saturday because he had "never really won anything in (his) life."

What a difference a week makes.

While Huff left with an injury in the second quarter last Saturday, the second-ranked Paladins earned at least a share of the SoCon title with a 17-14 win as he improved to 18-1 as a starter against FCS opponents. On Tuesday, he was named the SoCon's Offensive Player of the Month for October. On Thursday, he earned a special award that honors the work he's done as a leader on and off the gridiron.

Huff was announced as the 2023 winner of the Armed Forces Merit Award Thursday presented by the Football Writers Association of America (FWAA). Huff is the 12th recipient of the award which was created in 2012 to honor an individual or group with a military background that also has made an impact in college football. It's coordinated by the staff of the Lockheed Martin Armed Forces Bowl.

A second lieutenant in the Army reserves, Huff was chosen out of 46 nominees (41 individuals and five programs) by a nine-person committee made up of FWAA members and Lockheed Martin Armed Forces Bowl officials. Huff was commissioned from Presbyterian College into the U.S. Army Reserves on May 13, 2022.  He will depart January 8 to Fort Huachuca in Arizona for active duty training through May 7, 2024.

"I'd heard of the bowl game and the award, but I didn't know how prestigious it was until I did some more research on it," Huff said. "I'm extremely proud and excited to be selected."

Huff's honor took on a deeper meaning for Furman coach Clay Hendrix. During his 10 years as an assistant at Air Force before coming home to Furman, Hendrix was part of five teams that competed in the Armed Forces Bowl.

"Tyler is incredibly deserving when you look at the total body of work. Tyler's willingness to serve is just phenomenal," Hendrix said. "He went to a non-scholarship place to play football and graduated in three years. He comes here and has been the most unassuming guy since the day he showed up. He just went to work and won the job.

"He's such a unique guy. He's married to a great wife and watching him interact with her, he's just as good as it gets. ... I'm just thrilled for him, his family and Furman. It's a great thing for us and Presbyterian. We invited some of their folks, so they'd have a chance to be here (for Thursday's presentation)."

The official announcement Thursday came over a ZOOM teleconference. Huff later appeared on ESPN'S SportsCenter via satellite from the Pearce-Horton Football Complex.

Huff has piled up 1,977 total yards of offense for the Paladins (8-1, 6-0) this season with 488 yards rushing and five touchdowns, and 1,489 yards passing and nine touchdowns. In his first year at Furman last season, he guided the Paladins to round two of the 2022 FCS playoffs and a 10-3 mark with 694 yards rushing and eight touchdowns, along with 2,199 yards passing and 15 touchdowns.

Huff will be honored at the Armed Forces Bowl on Dec. 23 at TCU's Amon G. Carter Stadium in Fort Worth, Texas.

"First and foremost, Tyler, I just want to thank you for your service to our country. It's truly appreciated. One thing I love about this award is it's normally for personnel that have served our country that come back and give back through college football," Armed Forces Bowl executive director Brant Ringler said in the presentation to Huff Thursday. "I believe you're the very first recipient that is actually what I call the dual threat.

"You're actually serving our country and serving your team as well, and being a leader on the field, off the field, and you're doing a heck of a job. I mean, having Furman all the way up to No. 2 in the ranking. I'm hoping to see you here on Jan. 7 in Frisco (Texas) at the FCS championship."

Huff played his first three seasons of college football at Presbyterian, where he totaled 3,085 total yards (525 rushing and 2,560 passing) and 27 touchdowns. He earned his U.S. Army officer commission through PC's ROTC program. He graduated there in the spring of 2022 with a degree in business analytics. Huff serves the Reserves through the 391st Engineer Battalion in Greenville.

Without an athletic scholarship, military service helped Huff pay his way through school at PC. The real inspiration for joining the military though were his grandfathers. He said being a leader in the military has only helped his quarterback skills and vice versa.

"My grandfather on my dad's side was in the Air Force and served in the Korean War. My grandfather on my mom's side was a Master Chief in the Navy," Huff said. "They never pushed me to it, but just telling me about it inspired me. ... I'm glad I did it.

"Being an officer, you're put in a leadership role immediately. If I was active duty right now, I'd be the platoon leader in charge of 40 to 50-something guys. So those leadership roles I can use for both."

The honor comes a couple of days before Furman's Senior Day and Military Appreciation Day festivities for Saturday's 1:30 p.m. game against VMI. Huff says he's "annoyed" that he will likely miss playing in the game due to his injured throwing shoulder, but he's focused on getting healthy and leading the Paladins on a playoff run.

While Huff obviously hopes to return and have a busy December quarterbacking Furman in the playoffs, the Armed Forces Bowl falls right in the middle of the three-week gap between the semifinals and national championship. He's already excited about traveling with his wife, Kathryn, to Texas again this year.

"It will be fun. Kathryn's birthday is actually Dec. 21, so they gave me a birthday gift to give to her," Huff said with a smile. "We will be down in Dallas for four days and I've never been before outside of the trip to San Antonio (for the FCS playoff game at Incarnate Word) last year. It will be good to actually explore Texas a little bit this time."

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