A rare and severe injury forced Taji Hudson to miss most of his senior football season at Cedartown High in Georgia. But Hudson is on the mend and is expected to be ready to start his freshman year at East Carolina next fall.
“He is doing well,” Cedartown coach Doyle Kelley said last week. “He has been released now (by doctors) and is back with us starting to lift weights and doing some running. He’ll start doing some throwing with our players here soon. So he’s coming along and everything is going well as far as the injury is concerned.
“He’s excited about coming to East Carolina.”
The 6-foot-4, 185-pound quarterback-safety made a verbal commitment to the Pirates on July 22, one month before Cedartown’s 2019 season opener against Rockmart. Kelley and the Bulldogs were hopeful for a big year with Hudson combining with Clemson pledge and running back Kobe Pryor to form one of the state’s most explosive backfields.
But in the third quarter against Rockmart, Hudson took a hit to the rib area that would have catastrophic results. He was transported by ambulance to a local hospital for tests where he was diagnosed with cuts on his liver and spleen, and later with a bruised kidney. Hudson was taken to Erlanger Hospital in Chattanooga, TN, where surgery was a possibility.
Fortunately, Hudson’s wounds began to heal on their own and he was able to return home after more than a week in the hospital.
“I’ve never seen anything like it,” Kelley said. “We thought maybe it was a bruise or a muscle. We even let him walk across the field not realizing how serious it was.
“We watched the film to figure out what happened. He didn’t have on a rib protector. A lot of quarterbacks don’t feel like they can be as free with that thing on. But he took a helmet straight to the ribs. He said when he rolled over it felt like he rolled over on a cleat or something and that’s when he felt pain. It was just a very freak accident and it sidelined him for the rest of the year.”
The injury interrupted a budding career that saw Hudson play for the Cedartown varsity as a freshman and sophomore at receiver and safety.
Trevon Wofford, who is now a sophomore at NAIA Pikeville, was Cedartown’s starting quarterback during those seasons. But after Wofford’s graduation, Kelley turned to Hudson as his replacement.
“With what we try to do, Taji fit the bill,” Kelley said. “He never once said, ‘I don’t want to do it.’ He accepted the role. He could be a heck of wide receiver with that body frame. But he decided to what was best for the team. He’s a team player.
“His junior year was pretty amazing. The kid is only 17 years old. I tell all the coaches that he has so much potential in front of him. I can’t wait to see it when he reaches his true potential. He’s just barely touched it right now. Whether he plays quarterback or decides to play somewhere else, he’ll fit well.”
ECU running back coach De’Rail Sims actually discovered Hudson when he dropped by Cedartown last spring. Army and Virginia Tech had already extended scholarship offers to Hudson by that time.
“Coach Sims came by, and our running back was getting a lot of looks at that time,” Kelley said. “He (Sims) asked if we had anybody else. I said, ‘I’ve got a sleeper here whose not getting many looks.’ He said, ‘Can I see him?’
“So I brought Taji in and introduced him. They couldn’t talk or anything at that time. But Coach Sims looked at him and liked what he saw. He (Sims) went back and did his homework and watched film of Taji. Then they offered him.”
Hudson would eventually entertain offers from Air Force, Army, Chattanooga, Coastal Carolina, Virginia and Virginia Tech. But after an unofficial visit to Greenville in June it was apparent to Kelley that East Carolina would be Hudson’s choice.
Kelley said the Pirates are getting a great athlete, but an even better person in Hudson.
“He’s just a natural athlete,” Kelley said. “He made so many unbelievable, spectacular plays his junior year. One I remember he was dropping back to pass, but nobody was open. He was being chased all over the field. But the next thing you know he’s running down field for a 50-yard gain, and you’re standing there wondering, ‘How did he get away?’
“But he’s not just a great player. He’s a leader. He leads by example and earns the respect of the players around him. He puts in the work in the weight room. In practice, he does what we tell him and then does above and beyond that. There’s no worry about him in the classroom. I told the East Carolina coaches they’re getting a great athlete, but a better person.”
Hudson will sign with East Carolina during the early period on Dec. 18, but will remain at Cedartown through the spring semester with hopes of competing in track and field.
“He’s been cleared so it’s a matter of how he progresses and how quickly he gets back to where he needs to be,” Kelley said. “Since he’s only 17, if he needs to be redshirted, that’ll just give him more time to heal.”
Hudson is one of three quarterbacks expected to sign with the Pirates in December, along with Mason Garcia from Myrtle Beach, SC. and Ryan Stubblefield from Richmond, TX.