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Michael Hughes
Michael Hughes kicked a career long 54-yard field goal to give Appalachian State the win at Monroe. br> photo courtesy of Appalachian State Athletics

App State’s Hughes Named Sun Belt Conference Football Special Teams Player of the Week

A kicking net and camera operator were unforeseen accessories to Michael Hughes’ award-winning moment.

Hughes, who made a 54-yard field goal as time expired in App State’s 41-40 victory at ULM, was named the Sun Belt Conference’s Special Teams Player of the Week.

Despite starting their final drive with 1:02 showing on the clock, the Mountaineers were backed up at their own 19 with 24 seconds left and no timeouts remaining. Joey Aguilar completed three straight sideline throws to Kaedin Robinson for 14, 16 and 14 yards to move the ball to the ULM 37, where Christian Johnstone delivered a clean snap to holder Conner Maynard.

Spot. Kick. Game Over.

“I usually don’t kick into the net at all, but tonight something came upon me to kick into the net,” Hughes said afterward. “I hit a few balls into the net on the sideline, and then I just watched Joey march the team down the field. As soon as we got into field goal range, I knew it was going to be a long one, and we practice those kicks every day in practice. I had the confidence in me that’s built up over the years.”

Hughes’ career-long kick was the longest winning field goal to end an App State victory in program history and the longest field goal by an App State kicker since 2000, when Mark Wright connected on a 57-yarder against Troy. Hughes’ kick is tied for the third-longest field goal in App State history.

“I hit the same field goal in warmups from 59,” Hughes said. “The camera guy was perfect on my line. I played my line, hit the ball and game over. I knew … I immediately turned around. I forget what I did, but it was a very exciting moment — one that I’ll definitely remember. Having 500 people jump on me, I’ll never forget that.”

At 10 of 13 on field goals this season, Hughes is tied for seventh place nationally in made field goals, with 11 being the FBS-leading total. He is tied for No. 4 among FBS kickers at 10.0 points per game.

He already has surpassed his total of made field goals from a 2022 season in which he went 9 of 12 as a first-year starter. An aggressive mindset and specific down-and-distance scenarios played roles in App State frequently passing up field goals for potential first downs last season, when the Mountaineers succeeded enough to rank 12th nationally in fourth-down payoff.

Four of his made field goals came in the 2022 finale, but the one miss that night came with the score tied on the final play of regulation. Hughes had another game with four field goals earlier this season at Wyoming, as all four made kicks occurred in the first half to produce a 12-7 lead before Wyoming erased a late 19-14 deficit by returning a blocked field goal for a go-ahead touchdown.

Hughes has worked to grow into his role and serve as a reliable weapon who can combine high-level leg strength with accuracy. He already has made kicks from 46, 50 and 54 yards this season.

“I had my ups and downs last year, just like everyone else,” Hughes said. “That’s the thing about me — I’ll identify them and attack the day at hand and get better.”