Two-time SoCon Offensive Player of the Year, Jacob Huesman and his father, winning UTC Head Coach Russ Huesman, combine their expertise for on field success.
Long before Jacob Huesman developed a physique that more resembles a linebacker (6-2, 225) than a quarterback, he was a wiry preadolescent competing for the Elmore Street Packers in a Memphis Youth League. Midway through the season, when he was playing tight end and the team was struggling, a coach the younger Huesman remembers as “Omar” asked him to throw the football.
“I had a pretty good arm for my age,” Huesman remembered, “So I chunked it down the field.” And a quarterback was born.
In the history of college football, there have been few cases of a head coach’s son being his team’s quarterback. Fewer still have had a quarterback as the star of the team.
Army head coach Red Blaik had his son Bob as quarterback over a half-century ago. Marshall’s Jim Donnan coached his quarterback son Todd to a Southern Conference title in 1994.
Though records are hard to come by, it would appear that at the most it has been no more than 20 times since 1950. And one of the most successful of the father-son combinations, if not the most successful, lies with the Huesman family in Chattanooga.
The fact the Huesmans have been as successful as they have shouldn’t surprise anybody in the six-state area comprising the Southern Conference, and surely no one in the Chattanooga area who is a football fan.
Jacob Huesman is a two-time Southern Conference Offensive Player of the Year and he is on target to hold most all of UTC’s offensive records. With his skill and his father’s coaching expertise, Chattanooga has won 23 games since he became the starter in the team’s third game in his red-shirt freshman season and that is heading into the 2015 season. As a starter, Huesman is 23-11.
More importantly, Huesman and son have led the Mocs to back-to-back Southern Conference championships, co-winners with Samford in 2013. Prior to that UTC had not won a SoCon title since 1984.
Coach Huesman does not take any credit for his son’s success and frankly admits his wife, Amy, and assistant coach Will Healy may have had as much to do with Jacob choosing the Mocs over several FBS (Football Bowl Subdivision; i.e. Tennessee, Alabama, Georgia, Ohio State, et cetera) universities.
“I don’t know a lot about coaching quarterbacks. I leave that to others.”
Those others would include Will Healy, a Chattanooga native who played at the University of Richmond. Huesman, the coach, was defensive coordinator and initiator of the famed Stonewall Defense that led the Spiders to the FCS (Football Championship Subdivision; i.e. no bowls, but a championship playoff with 16 teams) title in Chattanooga in 2009.
Healy was a two-time all-state quarterback at Boyd Buchanan and a back-up at Richmond. When Huesman accepted the position with the Mocs, one of his first hires was the young Healy. They have been together now going into their seventh season. Healy had befriended the younger Huesman at Richmond.
“I met Jacob for the first time when he was in seventh grade,” Healy says. “He came to a prospect camp in the eighth grade and was probably the best quarterback there. He’s really a special young man and more like a little brother to me.
“When I recruited him, Coach wanted me to treat him like any other recruit, but our relationship was way past that. I’m so proud of what he’s done.”
Huesman’s accomplishments at Chattanooga are extraordinary. Among those, with still one more year of eligibility, are 4,000 passing yards and 2,000 yards rushing in career, becoming the first Moc to achieve that. He was a second team All-America selection by Beyond College Sports last season and is on the FCS preseason list this year for the Walter Payton Award. The Payton Award is FCS’s equivalent of the Heisman in FBS.
His skill led him to being invited to the Manning Passing Academy this past summer. Among the elite college quarterbacks to attend that camp were Dak Prescott of Mississippi State, Trevor Knight of Oklahoma, Trevonne Boykin of Texas Christian, Jared Goff of Cal, Cody Kessler of Southern Cal, Maty Mauk of Mizzou and Joshua Dobbs of Tennessee.
“I wanted to compare myself with the great quarterbacks who were there,” Huesman says. “My takeaway was ‘I can do this.’”
Huesman also had the benefit of personal attention by legendary quarterback and sometime Chattanooga resident Peyton Manning at a few passing sessions on Scrappy Moore Field.
“What a privilege that was,” he says. “I was a little nervous at first, but he put me at ease and soon it was just him passing to wide-outs we recruited to help and then me passing.”
Huesman was not in that elite mix following his high school career, but he was offered by several larger schools and would have seemed to be a perfect fit for Paul Johnson’s offense at Georgia Tech. He was also offered by Air Force Academy, San Jose State, Wake Forest and James Madison, among others.
He took only one trip before deciding to play for his father, that to James Madison. His mother drove him. Amy Huesman and Jacob have more than the prototypical relationship of mother-son. A UTC history professor, she home-schooled Jacob through the eighth grade, as she has done with all four of her children.
“Some of my friends told me how hard Baylor was,” Jacob says. “But after I took my first test I knew I was prepared.” He finished with a 3.6 GPA at Baylor School and is a Dean’s List student at UTC, majoring in business.
Amy completely enjoyed the trip to her native Virginia. Originally from Norfolk and she and Russ met at William & Mary when he coached there and she was a graduate student. However, during the ride, she was massaging Jacob’s interest in UTC.
“We had a lot of time to discuss the benefits of playing at UTC,” she says of the visit. “We knew UTC was high on his list, but we spent time confirming he wanted to go there.”
Jacob’s success has obviously translated into Dad’s success, though Jacob would be the first to admit there were many others who have played major roles.
“It’s more important to me to win games as a team,” he says. “And I know my Dad is a great coach. I’ve watched him for so long now I know what to expect of him as a father and as a coach. I don’t regret coming to play for him. Never a doubt about that.”
When Russ Huesman accepted the position of head football at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga in 2009, he made a commitment to return winning football to his alma mater. Huesman was a four-year starter at defensive back for the Mocs from1978-1981. Chattanooga was also the place where he began his coaching career, as a student assistant after expending his playing eligibility.
The turnaround at UTC came quickly. After the Mocs had won only one game in 2008, Huesman’s first team finished with a 6-5 record. From a winless Southern Conference mark in ’08, the Mocs were 4-4 in 2009.
There has been just one hiccup since the Cincinnati native took over the job. UTC is 41-29 in Huesman’s six years. The only losing season in that time was 2011 when the Mocs finished 5-6; but, three of those defeats were by one point, another by two and another by a touchdown in overtime.
And the last two seasons have been for the ages. Father and son are now gunning for three Southern Conference championships in a row, something that has happened only one other time since the Mocs joined the league in 1976.
That was in 1978-79, when Russ Huesman himself was one of the stars as defensive back.
Story by Sam Woolwine
Photography by Billy Week, Courtesy of UTC Athletics