One of the greatest runners in the long history of Charleroi was Phil Hughes (Class of 1971), a rare 1,000-yard rusher, joining the likes of Lew Rawls, who gained 1,019 yards in 1966.
Flashback to Hughes’ high school glory days. He was a three-year letterman in basketball, track and football. He set two school records by high jumping 6 feet, 1 inch, and by finishing the 100 in a sizzling 9.9 seconds. Hughes said he nearly “made it to the States, but I pulled a hamstring. I got beat three times in three years, once a year, by the same person, Norman Jones from Clairton. I ran a 4.3, 40 on cinders, once with bare feet — I was trying to show off,” he chuckled.
Still, football was understandably his favorite sport. The 6-foot-1, 185-pound Hughes rambled for 3,217 yards and scored 257 career points. He began flashing his talent as a mere sophomore, becoming the first Charleroi running back to gain over 1,000 yards (1,109).
Further accomplishments earned him All Big 10 status in his junior and senior seasons. In fact, as a junior his 1,211 yards rushing established a new school record. That record stood for decades until Darrell Harding eclipsed it. In his junior season, Hughes also led his conference in scoring with 93 points while turning in an incredible three games with 200-plus yards rushing. Every time he lugged the football he churned out 5.9 yards.
Due to an injury, his senior yardage output slipped to 897 yards, which was still a stellar total and easily good enough to earn him first team All-State honors. Toss in the fact that he was a defensive star. His head coach, Rab Currie, once said, “He has some of the best moves I’ve seen for a high school kid.” He added, “When he’s hit, he gives it a second, third, and sometimes a fourth effort. I’ve seen him break as many as four tackles on his way to a touchdown.”
Hughes still recalls one rainy night game against Clairton in which he scored on a run and kicked a 37-yard field goal. He said, “The headline in the paper said ‘HUGHES 9 CLAIRTON 0.’ But Monessen was our rival, and I never beat them, and that hurts me. They had signs up on the Charleroi bridge that I saw as I went to their stadium when I was a senior that said ‘PHIL WHO?’ But my ankle got twisted against Brownsville before that, when I had three touchdowns in the first quarter. So I couldn’t play against Monessen, and the signs made me so upset that I couldn’t represent. And we only lost by about three points. If I was playing, we would have dominated them.”
Hughes received a full scholarship to Potomac State, a West Virginia junior college. West Virginia University coach Bobby Bowden had a great runner at the time, Jim Braxton, but Hughes said there was a chance that he would fill a Mountaineer void after he went to Potomac State. However, Hughes became discouraged there, where he said the team’s field “was like a cow pasture,” so he returned home.
Hughes said he tried out for and impressed Hall of Fame coach George Allen who was coaching the Washington Redskins. Hughes was hopeful that he might take the roster spot left vacant when Charley Taylor was about to retire. Taylor changed his mind, though, so Hughes switched gears and played semi-pro ball for teams such as the Washington Generals and the Pittsburgh Wolf Pak who had former NFL quarterback “Jefferson Street” Joe Gilliam throwing to him.
According to Hughes, he also tried out for the Steelers at Three Rivers Stadium, but he was told by team official Dick Haley that despite his talent, the Steelers “had a dynasty going” at the time and had no room for him. Undaunted, Hughes played for Morgantown for $25 per game. Traveling there from the Valley three days a week for practices, he was playing for the love of the game, certainly not for the money.
Hughes is a member of the Charleroi Football Hall of Fame and the Charleroi All Sports Hall of Fame. A retired West Penn Power worker, Hughes is the father of one son, Marcus Allen Hughes — named after two uncles, not for the former NFL great. Hughes still resides in the Charleroi area, living in the house he grew up in, the very house where he began his football days, throwing the ball around in his yard.
“I still have all my same old friends I had when I was in high school. I’m happy,” he said. Looking back, he says he is most proud of achieving what he did in sports for his hometown.
NOTES: Currie quotes and some statistical information provided by Dennis Stitch and Tom Jenkins. Thanks also to Steve Russell for his invaluable assistance on this and many other stories.