In less than three months, Columbus Lions quarterback Kevin Huff has made a transition that can take years.
At the beginning of the season, he was an understudy to the Lions’ starter and lucky to get a handful of snaps each game. Just after the season’s midpoint, he is leading the league’s best team into the playoff race with a backup under his own wing.
“I always wanted to the be the starter,” Huff said. “That’s been my goal all along. Realistically, I didn’t know if it would happen this quick, but I’m glad it’s happening for me.”
Huff was one of three rookie quarterbacks at training camp along with Bill Ashburn and Chris McCoy. Ashburn, a former Louisville backup, was named the team’s first starter and led the Lions through their first six games. Huff began playing sparingly, but eventually began splitting time almost equally with Ashburn as he picked up the system.
Lions coach Jason Gibson said he was no more impressed with one quarterback or the other at the time, but simply wanted to make sure he had two game-ready players.
Huff and Ashburn played off each other, and both cited their ability to find weaknesses in the other’s play as their strength. And for a couple weeks, the Lions were one of the most efficient two-quarterback teams in the AIFA.
“We always worked together to make sure there was never any drop off,” Huff said. “We helped each other a lot and we could both go in and there wasn’t any difference in how (the team) played.”
Ashburn did not dress for the Lions’ May 2 game against the South Carolina Force for undisclosed reasons and was released shortly after.
And like that, Huff had to make the transition from part-time starter to full-time leader.
Huff, a former Tuskegee quarterback, inherited a team with one of the league’s best records, and his 223 yards passing and four touchdowns last week against the Force put the Lions in sole possession of first place in the AIFA with a 7-2 record. Now the focus has shifted to quality control.
“I have to keep playing like I’ve been playing, and we all have to keep playing hard every possession,” Huff said. “I feel like we can only stop ourselves, no one else can stop us.
“That was my motto all through college, and I feel like I just have to get the job done.”
Huff has also taken up the role of teacher since the Lions signed another rookie backup, Todd Spitzer. The former Western Carolina quarterback first signed with the af2’s Florida Firecats, but came to Columbus on April 27 after being cut. He said Huff has helped him progress.
“He’s showed me a lot of stuff, and we’ve been helping each other out a lot,” Spitzer said. “When I went out there in my first game, he showed me what I was doing wrong. I talked to him about what I saw and we made some changes.”
McCoy, a former Navy star, has yet to play this season but is still with the team.
Maybe out of appreciation for the opportunity his own relationship with Ashburn offered him, Huff has taken up the task of making sure his backup could replace him.
“I have to be his backbone and he has to be my backbone,” Huff said.
“The great thing about this team is that I want him to be able to pick up where I left off. I want us to have good, solid depth, not just one guy.”