Many in Williamson County know of Chris Hughes.
He’s also one of the most recognizable faces in athletics in Fairview, but the Fairview High School football coach’s celebrity status is even far greater in the world of flag football.
“I guess there’s something about a fat, 50-year-old plus quarterback that is intriguing,” Hughes said bluntly.
Maybe, but think of him as the inspiration for a generation of sorts – at least that’s what the founder of the American Flag Football League told the Yellow Jackets coach.
“I remember Jeff Lewis, the founder of the AFFL, pulling me aside and saying, ‘You know, you make everyone sitting on the couch watching this sport think they can go out and play,’” Hughes recalled. “And that is a great thing, because it so much fun.”
At 53, Hughes is slinging pigskin and doing it at an elite level.
Of course, the rules are a bit different than the game Hughes coaches every Friday night during the fall, but in terms of a veteran gridiron leader’s scheming and gameplay, it’s pretty well-suited for that. That’s why most weekends, you’ll find Hughes scooting around the country playing in flag football tournaments the same way he has been doing for a couple decades.
It’s attracted plenty of friends and former players, like 2014 Fairview graduate Nic Harvey, an all-state receiver under Hughes in high school.
“These elite teams have former NFL guys and just flat-out, amazing, athletic people and yeah, we have couple of those guys, but really our team is just a bunch of guys that follow Chris’ lead,” said Harvey, a member of Hughes’ Mean Machine squad. “There’s some crazy competition, but it’s a lot of fun.”
Harvey, nicknamed Captain America by some of his teammates, dominated this summer’s Yellow Jacket alumni game by racking up 158 yards receiving and also returning a 70-yard kickoff. He’s only been playing flag football for about 2 1/2 years, but his speed and athleticism has turned him into a top player and a big weapon for Hughes.
“Our chemistry is unreal because it goes back to his high school days when I used to throw to him in practice,” Hughes said. “He’s really come along and is making a name for himself in the game.”
“We are pretty much running a lot of the same routes Chris called in high school, plus I think I know some more of those code words he throws out there that helps, too,” said Harvey, who added that Hughes officiated his wedding. “He trusts me and I trust him.
“I’m just blessed to be a part of this and I’ll play with this team any chance I get.”
Mean Machine reached the Elite 8 out of a field of more than 200 teams. Their elevated status nationally advanced them to the round of 32 in Indianapolis last weekend. They opened the tournament with a 37-22 win and followed that with a 36-12 win to earn a quarterfinal berth. They also collected $5,000 in winnings.
Mean Machine will play in Houston Aug. 14-15 in the quarterfinals where the top team will emerge with a $200,000 prize as well as bragging rights like none other.
In addition to Harvey, Hughes has top targets like former Furman standout and NFL player Jerodis Williams as well as former Cumblerland player Michael Green.
“These guys are electric out there,” the veteran player and coach said.
Mean Machine opens against two-time defending champion Fighting Cancer in the quarterfinals. Fighting Cancer won its first AFFL title by knocking off Team Godspeed in 2018, a team co-captained by former Olympic gold-medal winning sprinter Michael Johnson and former NFL running back Justin Forsett along with another former NFL player – Seneca Wallace – at quarterback.
“This is the big time,” Hughes said.
New Orleans-native Darrell Doucette leads Fighting Cancer under center, while former NFLer Harry Coleman and former LSU basketball player Charles Carmouche also are on the roster.
“It will definitely be tough,” Hughes said, adding that his Fairview boys will be playing in high school jamboree the night before competition in Houston begins. “I’ll have to catch the redeye out to make it in time.”
Dominique Rodgers-Cromarti, another former NFL star, could await the winner. Rodgers-Cromarti is a starting wideout and corner for The Kings of Florida, which rolled into the quarterfinals by outscoring opponents 90-16 in two outings.
“We’re just going to go in there and try to have more fun with this,” Hughes said. “We are all enjoying this ride and for me, I was terrible at regular football, so I’ll just keep this up as long as I can.”
Hughes has been an advocate for flag football for decades as well as a star. Mean Machine is a household name in the growing sport and Hughes has helped push it along all the while in Tennessee. He’ll be a coach and mentor in the first girls flag football league in partnership with the Tennessee Titans and the TSSAA in March.
On Sunday night, Mean Machine’s second-round 36-12 win over Primetime will be aired online on the AFFL’s Facebook page. More information about the Elite 8 in Houston as well as tournament coverage can be found at affl.com.