Chris Johnson
By (@ChrisDJohnsonn)
Aug 7, 2012

by Chris Johnson (@chrisdjohnsonn)

Hometown: Kirkwood, Missouri 

Position: Wide Receiver

Star rating: Two-Star, No. 202 WR

Ht/Wt: 6-3, 185 pounds 

Other offers: Eastern Illinois, Tennessee Martin, Indiana

What’s to like

At the Pat Fitzgerald football camp held at Northwestern last June, McHugh, who was battling a sore leg, ran a 4.45 40-yd dash. He then performed one-on-one drills for NU coaches. Soon after, Fitzgerald extended an offer and McHugh committed later that day. He had drawn interest from several Big Ten schools, but after learning about NU’s academics and Fitzgerald’s emphasis on developing “young men” off the field, McHugh was sold on the Wildcats. During his senior season at Kirkwood high school, McHugh caught 33 passes for 20 touchdowns and 980 yards while contributing as a kick/punt returner with 261 yards and three scores. He was a first-team all-state selection and the ESPNHS Missouri Midseason Offensive player of the year.

While he has great speed and size, McHugh projects as a slot receiver for the Wildcats. He’s a reliable pass-catcher and is effective finding gaps in coverage over the middle, making plays in traffic and running after the catch. McHugh needs to add bulk to his lanky 6-3, 172-pound frame, but he promises to be a hardworking and productive pass-catcher in Mick McCall’s pass-oriented attack. Given his mindblowing 29.6-yards per catch average as a senior in high school and effectiveness in the return game, it’s clear why McHugh, despite receiving only one other offer from a Big Ten school, rose to stardom within the Missouri high school circuit after his commitment. Few, if any, receivers in NU’s 2012 class boast the same imposing blend of size, speed and explosiveness, not to mention refined route-running skills and high-football IQ. McHugh is the type of player who can learn the Wildcats offense fairly quickly, which will allow for a seamless transition into his new team environment.

Prospects for next season 

The receiving corps is well-stocked this upcoming season, with at least five players—Demetrius Fields, Cameron Dickerson, Rashad Lawrence, Tony Jones, Kyle Prayer—expected to play major roles in the passing game. There will be no shortage of talent, depth or experience at the position, so it’s highly unlikely that McHugh, or any other true freshman, for that matter, will be needed for this season.

The good news is that a redshirt year will benefit the Kirkwood (MO) native. McHugh can learn the inner workings of McCall’s spread attack, assess where his dynamic skill set fits best within the offense and ply his trade during scout team workouts all while morphing his slight frame into a thick, muscular physique better-suited to handle hard-hitting Big Ten linebackers and defensive backs. McHugh, who also played defense at Kirkwood, could contribute on special teams as early as next season, but wasting a year of eligibility for such a menial role is the wrong play in this instance. A redshirt year will do wonders for McHugh, both mentally and physically. Next season, after a year in the system, he may be able to compete for a reserve role as a slot receiver. For now, he can use 2012 to establish a comfortable balance between academics and football, to set a strong precedent in the weight room and the practice field and to gauge the areas in which he needs to improve before making a run at playing time in 2013.

What he’s saying

“I tried to hide the smile but I couldn’t,” McHugh said, describing his initial reaction after receiving an offer from NU. “I laughed because I was kind of shocked. It was my dream school from the start.”

What they’re saying

“Mike McHugh will come into Northwestern looking to get onto the field early and after watching his film, it looks like his speed and ability to pick up yards after the catch will be what he should rely on most.”—Matt Alkire, Scout. Com recruiting analyst.

Check out PurpleWildcats.com and Fox Sports Next/Scout.com for the latest in Northwestern recruiting. For more on McHugh., check out his profile on scout.com.