DALLAS, TX (WIS) - Albert Huggins walked into AT&T Stadium holding a camera on a steady stick as he took in the sights and sounds on Media Day on Thursday.
Being a part of such a big event is nothing new to the former Orangeburg-Wilkinson standout. He’s been with the Tigers on each of their last three trips to the College Football Playoff. But this year is a little different. This year, Huggins will be asked to help fill the void left by suspended defensive tackle Dexter Lawrence.
“I realize the opportunity that I have,” said Huggins. “Everybody’s come up to me and informed me of the opportunity that I have. I’m just grateful for the opportunity.”
The road to this point of his career wasn’t an easy one for Huggins. The 6-foot-3, 315-pounder wanted to play defensive end, but coaches thought he’d be a better fit as a defensive tackle. The transition took some time, but he’s been nothing short of instrumental in the Tigers’ success during his time in Tiger Town.
“He’s unbelievably strong,” said Tigers head coach Dabo Swinney. “He might be the strongest guy, but he’s in the top two or three… His strength is unbelievable across the board in all of his numbers. He’s got a lot of natural gifts for the position, but it took a little while for him to buy in.
“I don’t think he was as focused on doing what it would take to be a great player at this level. I think he had kind of always been the bigger, stronger guy and, now, he’s got a bunch of other big, strong guys around him that I think worked harder, were more committed, more focused, more disciplined, that loved the meetings, loved the offseason, all that stuff. Whereas Albert did everything that he needed to do. He’s a great kid. He’s always been a great kid, but he just wasn’t an ‘above and beyond’ guy.”
Huggins has played in all 13 games for the Tigers this season posting 24 tackles, 3.5 tackles for loss, and 2.5 sacks. While the numbers may not jump off the stat sheet for most people, the Tigers understand the value the senior defensive tackle has for their program.
“He’s a high NFL-caliber player,” said Swinney. “I mean, big time. And the fact that he stayed to be in a rotation with Dexter and Christian – those are two first-round guys for sure – and you’ve got Albert, he’s not far off of that. Again, he’s a really, really high-level guy for the next level. The fact that he stayed and bought in to just playing to the rotation of those three guys, all of them have worked well together. I’m really proud of him.”
“Albert’s a great player,” said Tigers defensive lineman Austin Bryant. “He can be a starter on any team in the country, including ours, and he’s going to be that this weekend… We all believe in Albert. Albert’s a great player –physical, fast, big, strong. He can do everything on the field. I’m just glad he gets this opportunity to show what he has.”
Huggins and the Tigers take on third-ranked Notre Dame at AT&T Stadium at 4 p.m. Saturday in the Cotton Bowl.