Land of 10 has embarked on a series of “Next Generation” articles, a project that aims to bring our readers greater insight into the class of 2017 signees. Land of 10 Michigan writers Rachel Lenzi and Kevin Goheen are visiting this year’s Michigan incoming class of freshmen to show you more than their 40-yard dash times and recruiting rankings. Today’s installment is with Toledo, Ohio (Central Catholic) defensive end James Hudson III.
TOLEDO, Ohio — James Hudson III reached a crossroads in the eighth grade.
He had to choose a high school, and his mother, Glenda Hudson, encouraged him to go to one of the city’s Catholic options: St. Francis de Sales, an all-boys school a few blocks from the University of Toledo, or Central Catholic, a coeducational school a few blocks from downtown Toledo.
He visited both schools and compared the educational experiences. But during his daylong visit at Central Catholic, he was paired with Keith Towbridge, the son of a family friend.
Towbridge, it turns out, was also a pretty good football player. A football player who took Hudson from classroom to classroom and introduced Hudson to his classmates and teammates. At the end of the day, Towbridge didn’t flat-out tell Hudson that he should go to Central Catholic. He left that decision up to Hudson.
Hudson enrolled at Central Catholic as a freshman in the fall of 2013. Down the road, Towbridge would help Hudson with another long-term decision: where to play college football, and why.
“I look up to Keith as a big brother,” said Hudson, a 4-star defensive tackle who is part of Michigan’s 30-player class that is ranked fifth in the nation by 247Sports. “He mentors me. He’s taught me a lot. When he’s home, we just always get together and talk about football. He’s told me about the NFLPA game he’s played in and what he’s doing to get himself ready for the next level.
“And he tells me to keep my head on straight. That I need to come into college with the right mindset, because it’s a different ballgame than high school.”
Yet when Hudson decided to reopen his recruitment in May 2016, he learned two things: the value of having guidance and the importance of an honest voice.
Hudson is the most recent in a line of Central Catholic football players who find a way to give back to the program that helped them. It’s a custom that has evolved within Central Catholic’s football program, one that started before Towbridge and one that Hudson hopes will continue after he goes to Michigan.
“Those voices, they’re the ones who say to the younger players, ‘Let me tell you how it’s really going to be when you get there,’ ” Glenda Hudson said. “They’ve been there, they’ve been through the process. They’ve shared some things with him. They’ve told him, ‘(College football), it’s not going to be like Central.’ ”
But when Hudson faced his second crossroads — choosing a college — there was initially no voice, no mentor to guide him. Hudson admitted that he stumbled in making an early verbal commitment to Kentucky in the summer of 2015 and later chose to reopen his recruitment.
But Hudson had to figure out a few things about the recruiting process — and about handling that process as a teenager.
Hudson grew up playing sports. When he was 8 years old, his father, James, who is a lawn care specialist with the city of Toledo, took him to the local football fields in the city’s Harvard Terrace neighborhood to sign up for an elementary school team.
James Hudson II gave his son simple encouragement: “Get out there!”
“I went out there and I just fell in love with the game,” Hudson said. “I played all different positions, and I fell in love with the contact, hitting people and making big plays. When you make the big hit on the field, it just seems like everybody is like, ‘Oh, hey, who is that guy?’ And I loved being that guy.”
Then, Hudson gravitated toward basketball, and his growth spurts proved to be an advantage. On the basketball court, he developed his footwork and his ability to jump, twist and pivot.
But after his freshman year of high school, Hudson sat down with Greg Dempsey, Central Catholic’s football coach, and they came to a quick conclusion: As a 6-foot-5, 250-pound 15-year-old, with intelligence, quick feet and strength, Hudson had a future in football.
That future wasn’t just at the high school level, but also as a potential college player. Central Catholic had established itself as a perennial power in northwest Ohio and was producing Division I college football players such as quarterback DeShone Kizer at Notre Dame and wide receiver Dane Sanzenbacher at Ohio State.
That brief conversation with Dempsey motivated Hudson.
“When I watched the film my sophomore year, I just had a different mindset about football, period,” Hudson said. “Making the transition to varsity, I knew I couldn’t go out there and play scared. I had to do what I knew how to do, and that’s just make plays. And that’s what I did.”
As a junior, Hudson had 82 tackles, including 25 for loss, and 8.5 sacks to help Central Catholic reach the Ohio Division III championship game. As a senior, Hudson had 80 tackles, including 34 for loss, and 8 sacks to help Central Catholic reach the state semifinals.
As he grew into his role on the football team at Central, he also blossomed in the school community.
“James does a great job of acclimating himself to so many different people at Central Catholic,” athletic director Dan Gill said. “DeShone (Kizer) and Keith (Towbridge) are two individuals who know how to interact with some of our older alumni and our younger students here. It made them unique, and it makes James unique.”
Hudson has also made an impact on some of Central Catholic’s extended family.
“My son, Brandon, looks at James like he’s already playing on Sundays,” Gill said. “James is one of those players he’s trying to emulate when he’s playing in the backyard. Friday night lights means a lot to a 6-year-old, and seeing some of the kids we’ve had come through and the character of those kids, it’s been a great experience for him to be a part of it.”
But in the same way Hudson influenced others, he found another influence: Towbridge, who graduated from Central Catholic in 2013 and was a tight end for the University of Louisville.
Towbridge mentored Hudson the way his older teammates once mentored him at Central Catholic.
Towbridge wanted to give something back to his younger teammates and classmates, whether it was the advice his mother once gave him that “college is everything,” or sharing what he learned from the recruiting process.
“I’d been through the whole process that James was going through,” Towbridge said. “You’ve got plenty of people who are telling you things, but those things might not be in your best interests. I’ve known James since he was in the seventh or eighth grade and this was one of those things, I needed to do this. I wanted him to follow a strong road. I didn’t want him to follow the same road everyone else was.”
Making the decision, and making it again
In the spring of 2015, Hudson got his first scholarship offer from Kentucky, a Southeastern Conference school.
Hudson became enthralled with the recruiting process from the beginning. On his first visit to Kentucky — Hudson’s first visit to any major program — he saw the big stadium, the fancy dorms, the star treatment recruits received … and he saw an immediate opportunity to secure his future in college football.
But the Hudsons urged their son to remain realistic about Kentucky.
“They may have gotten starstruck,” said Glenda Hudson, a retired social worker for the state of Ohio. “He and his teammate, Michael Warren, even said to each other, ‘What if we don’t get any other offers?’ They were young and they were also thinking, ‘We can be teammates in college!’ But there was that chance that they may not get to play together after high school.”
Still, Hudson committed to Kentucky in July 2015, less than six weeks before his junior year of high school. While he was heralded as a Kentucky recruit in 2015, more coaches from Division I programs began to call. The questions in the back of Hudson’s mind started to come to the forefront.
Was this the right decision?
Did I commit too soon?
What if there are better opportunities out there for me, besides just Kentucky?
After the 2015 season, Hudson began to reconsider his decision.
“I didn’t really get a chance to enjoy the recruiting process,” Hudson said. “When I committed, I only had four offers. After my junior year, the offers started pouring in. De-committing, I felt like that was the best decision, because I wanted to see what schools would actually be the best fit for me, and I didn’t know if Kentucky would actually be the best fit for me.”
Saying “yes” to Kentucky was easy for Hudson. The breakup was going to be a lot harder.
“That was a hard decision for him to make, to de-commit,” Glenda Hudson said. “He formed relationships with people, and there was that concern, ‘Will I hurt people’s feelings?’ ”
Hudson’s parents gave him another blunt piece of advice: You made the decision to commit. Now, you have to explain why you changed your mind.
“His coach advised him on de-committing and told him, ‘Stand up and face it,’ ” Glenda Hudson said. “I told him, ‘You’re not the first and you’re not the last to do this, but this taught you a lesson.’ ”
Then, on May 18, Hudson took the phone and nervously explained to Kentucky’s coaches that he no longer wanted to remain committed to the Wildcats. He wanted to consider the other college football programs that had started recruiting him, instead of maintaining a long-term relationship with just one school.
Three days after Hudson officially reopened his recruitment, he drove about 45 minutes north from his home in Toledo on an unofficial visit to Michigan. Hudson left Ann Arbor with a scholarship offer — the 19th of 21 he received.
Momma's Boy ❤️ pic.twitter.com/hYgmTjMnz7
— James Hudson III ™ (@__BallisLife2) May 23, 2016
Good advice from a mentor
During the recruiting process, Towbridge became a stronger voice for Hudson, even 300-plus miles away at Louisville.
Towbridge often returned to Toledo and reached out to Hudson each time. One piece of advice, Towbridge said, still stands out.
College coaches, Towbridge said, “are going to tell you anything and everything, because that’s their job.”
Towbridge spoke from experience, having received scholarship offers from nine schools before he chose Louisville in April 2012.
“They need to sell their school to you, and they’re going to tell you that you need to come there,” Towbridge told Hudson. “But each day, you need to do the research on each school, on who’s leaving and who’s returning, where you will be on the depth chart, what these schools will provide you academically.
“You’ve got to wean them out. This is where you will be the next four years, at that school, and you’d better choose wisely. And you’d better believe that they’re going to put you on the path to be successful.”
Hudson included Michigan in his top 10 in early July. He visited other schools during the summer but remained in touch with Rashan Gary, a defensive end who had just completed his first year with the Wolverines, and defensive line coach Greg Mattison, his primary contact in the program.
In August, less than three weeks before Central Catholic opened its season, Hudson announced his decision to join Michigan’s incoming class of 2017.
Sorry For The Wait 🤘🏽 pic.twitter.com/keAFekr22f
— James Hudson III ™ (@__BallisLife2) August 8, 2016
“I see myself as being a huge part of that defensive line, and I want to bring energy,” Hudson said on the day he announced his commitment to Michigan. “I’m going to bring the energy to get sacks, get tackles. Me and Rashan, we’re going to do some great things on the defensive line. We have a great friendship and we talk almost every day.”
At Michigan, Hudson believes he has an opportunity to develop as a defensive lineman and to contribute to a position group that places a priority on developing its depth.
After he chose Michigan, Towbridge told him bluntly that the fun of being a football recruit was over.
Now, Hudson offers his own advice to prospective recruits.
“Enjoy the process,” Hudson said. “Once you sign, everything changes. It can be stressful. Even when it comes down to making a decision, it can be stressful, too, because you’ve got coaches calling you and coaches coming to your house. But I would just say, make the best decision for you. Go with your gut feeling.”
Then, Hudson considered the people who reached out to him from the Central Catholic football community, and the value of having those relationships, many that were forged through sports.
“That is huge,” Hudson said. “I talk to Keith. I talk to DeShone Kizer, I talk to Paul Moses, who plays at Miami of Ohio, too. They all tell me the same things. Just be ready. You’re going to face challenges in college that you haven’t faced in high school, or maybe even ever. You have to keep your head on straight. You have to work hard. Your time will come.”
Now, Hudson has the opportunity to take on the same role that Towbridge took when Hudson began to consider his future.
“James can come back and talk to kids, and he has the chance to pay it forward,” Towbridge said. “I had a teammate who told me these things, things that I’m passing to James. Hopefully, it keeps going and going and going, and I see James as someone who will be a part of that.”