Photo Credit: Dave Knachel/Virginia Tech Athletics
Throughout his career, redshirt senior wrestler Cody Hughes has been behind some of the most talented wrestlers in Virginia Tech program history. Now in his final season, he is finally getting his chance to shine.
On February 8th, Hughes got to experience one of the top moments of his career. The fifth year senior won an 8-4 decision over Duke's Mason Eaglin on Senior Night. To make it even more special, the match was in front of a sold out crowd at Moss Arts Center.
After the match, Tony Robie broke down the long road that Hughes has had to earning the starting job at 174.
"[Cody Hughes] has had to pay his dues," head coach Tony Robie said that night. "He was behind Zach Epperly, he was behind Hunter Bolen, and he was behind David McFadden...for him to go out and beat a quality guy tonight from Duke was pretty cool to be a part of."
Hughes' massive improvement this season may not have been unexpected, but that's par for the course for a wrestler who's not from a typical powerhouse wrestling state.
At Marshwood High School, Hughes cemented himself as one of the best wrestlers in the state of Maine. His 212 career wins were a state record, and he was named the Maine Sunday Telegram's Wrestler of the Year two times.
However, when he got to Virginia Tech, the competition was stiffer. Perhaps the most significant competition came not from opposing teams, but rather from the fellow Hokies with whom he was fighting for a starting role.
"It was a long journey that started about five years ago now," Hughes said. "I was kind of always a backup, always coming in working with Dave [McFadden], Zach Epperly, Hunter Bolen, and Zack Zavatsky. I was always kind of behind those obviously really good guys that have done amazing things for our program."
During his freshman year, Hughes went 3-2 in dual meets. After redshirting during the 2016-17 season, he struggled during the next two seasons. Hughes held just a 1-6 dual meet record in his redshirt sophomore and redshirt junior seasons, and he lost his only match in an ACC dual meet in 2018.
This season, Hughes finally got an opening. With Mekhi Lewis taking an Olympic redshirt and David McFadden's subsequent move back to 165 lbs, Hughes seized his opportunity to move into a starting role at 174 lbs.
"It means a lot," Hughes said of this season. "Going out, just kind of being from a small town and getting to have this opportunity on a big stage now...I feel like the last four years have prepared me for this."
This year, Hughes is 8-5 in his 13 dual meet appearances. That record includes notable wins against Duke's Mason Eaglin and Old Dominion's Alex Cramer.
Last Friday, Hughes suffered 7-3 loss to #19 Daniel Bullard of N.C. State. Despite the loss, Hughes showed the determination and strength that he has gained from his long journey.
Hughes has a few more opportunities to prove himself this season, starting with this Saturday. He will face #18 Gregg Harvey when #7 Virginia Tech travels to #10 Pittsburgh at 7 pm.
After that, Hughes will travel with the Hokies to his first ACC Tournament on March 8. Through it all, he is making sure not to forget the journey that brought him here.
"I think it's just knowing all the hard work that has been put in throughout the four years," Hughes said. "Just going out and knowing and I've worked really hard throughout my whole college career, I can go make it count now."