HANFORD — A smile radiated across the face of Hanford native and current Fresno State Bulldogs football player Juju Hughes as he approached a line of fans eagerly waiting for his arrival on July 19 at Thursday Night Market Place.
Hughes was part of Fresno State Athletics Pride of the Valley campaign which rolled through downtown Hanford. While fans stopped by the Fresno State Athletics booth, which was located at 8th and Irwin St., to pick up a Pride of the Valley yard sign, they were able to meet Hughes, who took pictures and signed autographs for fans.
"There was a lot of love out here. Even more than what I expected," Hughes said. "It is very special. It is something I never really imagined and it is happening. It is cool seeing people I grew up with coming back here. They have seen how far I have come to get to this moment. It is surreal."
Hughes graduated from Hanford High in 2016 and is a senior starting defensive back on the Fresno State.
He was just named to the watch list for 25th annual Chuck Bednarik Award which annually recognizes the collegiate defensive player of the year. He said that he cannot wait to get back on the field for the 2019 season.
"I am excited to get back out there with my brothers. We have been grinding all off-season," Hughes said. "We just want to go out there and show everyone what we have."
Fresno State opens fall camp on Friday, Aug. 2. The team will then open their 2019 season on Saturday, Aug. 31 against USC in Los Angeles.
Hughes said that representing Hanford is important to him because of how it may look in the eyes of the youth.
"It is a very big deal," Hughes said. "It means a lot to me to be in this position representing Hanford because I know there a lot of kids that are looking up to me. I know it’s a big deal for me, the kids younger than me and the town of Hanford in general."