Jonathan Alder head football coach Brett Glass knew as soon as he saw him play as an eighth grader. But it wasn’t until a couple years later when he received his first Division I college scholarship letter that the Pioneers’ Trey Pugh realized that he had what it took to play college football at the highest level.
The 6-5, 230-pound standout made the D-I college football dream a reality Friday, Sept. 30, after signing a National Letter of Intent to play at Northwestern University. The standout not only earned the scholarship opportunity through his play on the field, but the top academic school in the Big Ten and one of the very best in the country doesn’t make exceptions for athletes, meaning he’s also getting things done in the classroom.
“Get a chance to play Big Ten football is a great accomplishment for myself, but also being at Northwestern, one of the top universities in the world is something I’m definitely going to take advantage of,” Pugh said. “I always felt that I had the potential to play D-I, but once I got my first offer (from Toledo following his sophomore year) that’s when I really started to realize that I could be a Division I athlete.”
Pugh is listed as a tight end on the Pioneers roster, but he routinely lines up as a receiver, a running back and Wildcat-style quarterback in addition to being one of the best defensive ends in Central Ohio. But Northwestern sees him as tight end at the next level and he’s preparing himself to be ready to go from day one.
That day will come earlier than most players in his class. The senior will graduate in December and become an early enrollee at Northwestern, making him eligible to work out with the team and participate fully in spring practice. With everything happening so fast Pugh is cherishing everything he can about the whole process but knows challenges are on the horizon.
“I feel pretty comfortable on both sides, both athletically and academically, but being Northwestern, it’s top-notch I’m going to have to step my game up,” he said. “I definitely wanted to take advantage of the extra semester of college, also being part of spring practices and building my body up to be ready to play. I kind of knew I wanted to enroll early, just to get myself that extra semester on campus.”
Pugh suffered a serious knee injury at the tail end of his sophomore year. But the process of rehabbing that knee and working on his upper-body strength that winter really helped turn him from a D-I athlete into a Big Ten caliber athlete.
“When he was an eighth grader, I saw him and said there’s a Division I football player right there, you could tell right there,” Glass said. “He started as a freshman for us so you knew he was pretty special right then.
“He’s always worked hard on his own, he’s a kid that goes all out for us on Friday nights. We’ve never had to tell him to play hard or have to try and pull it out of him. He has an incredible internal drive to be the best guy.”
As for the work ethic after his injury, Glass agreed that’s when it all came together for Pugh.
“In the weight room, through the winter, after the injury he spent every day working his upper body,” the coach said. “He probably put on 20-25 pounds between his sophomore and junior year and I think that’s when it clicked. A lot of kids would have been down after going through that, but he kept a good attitude and just worked.”
Pugh got interest from both Ohio State and Michigan, as well as a handful of other D-I schools but fell in love with the people and the environment surrounding the Northwestern program.
“I visited Northwestern like three times and every time I went there I liked it more and more,” he said. “It’s really like a family atmosphere, other schools preach it but at Northwestern you could really tell it was really a family and everybody got along. Add that to the football and the top-notch academics and it was hard to beat.”
He’s leaving school a semester early, but Pugh hopes that he’s been able to motivate some of the younger kids who have watched him play over the years.
“I’m pretty humble, and don’t think of myself too highly,” he said. “But I hope this is something that can motivate kids and hope they can do what I’ve done.”
Reach Chris Miles at 740-852-1616, ext. 1618 or via Twitter @MadPressSports.