The scene in West Forsyth High School’s cafeteria Friday was a bit earlier than usual for a football scholarship signing ceremony, but there was Eli Huggins, a month and a half before the vast majority of senior players will celebrate their college future, surrounded by all the usual pageantry.
A large purple banner with a Kansas State University wildcat hung on a backdrop. The cake nearby was chocolate inside, white and purple icing on the outside. Purple balloons flanked Huggins and his family. Huggins and his father wore matching white polo shirts with purple collars and wildcat logos. His mother, two sisters and brother coordinated in purple too.
The Wolverines senior defensive lineman then signed his scholarship to play for Kansas State, becoming the first West player to graduate early to jumpstart his college career. Huggins will attend the Manhattan university starting in January.
“It’s been a great four years at West,” Huggins said, “and I’m ready for the next step.”
Huggins decided to graduate early from West at the end of his junior year after much deliberation with his parents. He took literature and pre-calculus classes over the summer while sorting through the flurry of scholarships that came in starting that March.
“It was a tough decision,” Huggins said. “I wanted the chance to start my college career early. I know it’s going to be sad to leave a lot of people I love behind. I had to two sit down with my parents and talk a lot.
“It’s kind of scary how easy it is to graduate early,” Huggins added, chuckling.
Huggins made plenty look easy during his West career. He evolved from a precocious linebacker as a freshman and sophomore into a fearsome 6-foot-4, 280-pound lineman as a junior and senior. Colleges took notice after his breakout junior season when he had 80 tackles including 11 for losses and 11 sacks to help the Wolverines get back to the state playoffs after their streak of four straight appearances ended.
The flurry of scholarship offers started the following March before his senior season, 21 in all, but Huggins narrowed his choice between N.C. State and Kansas State, eventually settling on the Wildcats on June 21 because of the feeling he encountered when visiting the campus.
“I just got a good vibe around the program,” Huggins said. “Coach [Bill] Snyder is the head man and everyone supports him 100 percent. It’s really a family.”
Huggins expressed the same about his time at West, four years that included three state playoff appearances, 211 tackles and plenty of memories to take with him to Manhattan.
“It was the best experience of my life,” Huggins said. “I learned so much. I truly believe we have some of the best coaches in the country. It was a family here.”