For University of Saskatchewan Huskies linebacker Geoff Hughes, playing professional football is a dream come true. After wrapping up his five-year career with the green and white, Hughes will be trading his colours in for some black and gold, after signing with the CFL’s Hamilton Tiger-Cats.

The engineering major has had the usual struggles of balancing school and athletics, but his hard work has paid off in both the classroom and on the gridiron. In all five years with the Dogs, Hughes was named to the All-Academic team, meaning he maintained at least an 80 per cent average — an impressive feat on its own in the College of Engineering, let alone while playing football on the side.

Hughes, like many others, had a mix of emotions when he first heard the news of his first professional contract offer.

“It was pretty surreal when I first looked at the CFL contract. I never really gave much thought to having the opportunity to play professionally. I’ve played football for so many years and during those years, my complete focus was on the team I currently played for. I didn’t look ahead to future teams,” Hughes said. “ My focus during the last five years was to complete my engineering degree. When I initially received interest from Hamilton, I was really excited and it has pushed me to train even harder.”

As thrilling as signing a professional contract is, making the transition from the Canadian Interuniversity Sport level to the CFL won’t come without challenges.

“I’m really excited to be able to continue playing the sport I love. I am nervous for camp this summer but also really excited for the opportunity I have been given. The feelings I have are quite similar to the feelings I had when I committed to the Huskies. Moving away and joining a new team presents new challenges, but with a new challenge comes new opportunities and experiences which I am looking forward to,” said Hughes. “The Ti-Cats are my new team and my new challenge is to hopefully earn a spot on the roster.”

Over his five years with the Dogs, Hughes amassed 88 tackles, 6.5 tackles for loss, 3.5 sacks and one forced fumble. The Regina native had his biggest year in 2014, averaging five tackles per game on a tough Huskies defence. He was forced to miss three games due to injury in his senior season, and his presence in the difficult linebacker position was definitely missed.

Although his time as a Huskie is over, Hughes will look back on his career with nothing but fond memories.

“The biggest thing I’ll take away from my time on the Huskies is the relationships I’ve formed with players, coaches and training staff. I cannot thank the coaches and support staff enough for the guidance they’ve given to me throughout my time at the U of S. I want to make them proud of everything I do going forward in my career and life. Many of my greatest friendships were formed during my time as a Huskie and I wouldn’t trade the experience for anything.”

As he moves into the next chapter of his life and heads out east in the coming months, Hughes is thankful for everyone that has helped him get to this stage in his football career. He is especially thankful for a particular group that he says has been there for him since day one.

“I can’t pinpoint one role model that has had the biggest influence on me because there have been so many coaches that I have looked up to and learned under. However, I can say that my entire family has had a tremendous impact on my development,” Hughes said. “From when I started playing football at age 12 to now, my family always supported me by driving me to practices when I was young and watching my games. I feel really fortunate to have such a great family that supports me in all of my endeavours.”