MUSKEGON – A little over a year ago, D’Andre Hudgins was a kid who was pretty much done with football – or so he thought.

He played at the JV level during his sophomore year at Muskegon, but really didn’t understand the sport all that well, and didn’t enjoy it all that much.

Then in the summer of 2021, before his junior year of high school, Hudgins was walking along the sidewalk outside of Hackley Stadium when he was spotted by Muskegon offensive line coach Matt Bolles.

That started a conversation, and soon Hudgins was back on the practice field, this time with the varsity, preparing for the 2001 season.

Muskegon senior offensive lineman De’Andre Hudgins

“I was walking with my brother, we ran into Bolles, and he called me the next day and told me to come up there,” said Hudgins, a senior left tackle who will be in the trenches on Saturday when the Big Reds play DeWitt in the Division 3 state semifinals. “So I went and he introduced me to Coach Fairfield. At that point I was still kind of off about playing. I still didn’t know much about football, to be honest.”

It wasn’t long, however, before the magic of Big Red football infected Hudgins, and we quickly went from being a hesitant, slightly confused player to a starter a few weeks into the season, and a standout who earned All-Conference honors by the end of the season.

This year he’s become downright dominant, leading an offensive line that’s helped the Big Reds roll up 434 points.

“The environment was something unreal,” Hudgins said about what he found when he joined the Big Red varsity. “I never felt anything like it before. It was like a brotherhood, everybody caring for each other, everybody having each other’s back. It was almost like a community, which I really like.”

To meet Hudgins, you would never guess that he’s a bruising offensive lineman who frequently drives unfortunate opponents into the ground.

He’s very polite, soft-spoken and has a quick smile for everyone. As Coach Shane Fairfield puts it, Hudgins is “pleasant to be around and loves to make everyone happy. He’s an amazing kid. He works hard, he has a job on top of school and football and wants to go to culinary school to be a chef.”

Hudgins (60) flattens a would-be tackler during the Big Reds’ season opener against East Kentwood. Photo/Jeremy Clark

But in the trenches Hudgins (6-3, 280 pounds) has become a relentless lineman who will do anything to create space for the running game or buy time for passes.

“Ask anybody we’ve played against – they know who No. 60 is,” Fairfield said. “He’s taken a lot of people for rides. I think he’s one of the best linemen we’ve had, with his athleticism and the way he moves. He does a lot of things that other guys can’t do.

“Sometimes more seasoned guys take a play off, particularly when the ball is not coming their way, but never De’Andre. He just does what he’s told to do. If we say his job is to get that guy, he will stay after that guy until the whistle blows. He loves pleasing us and he loves the game.”

Muskegon fans have enjoyed what Hudgins and his fellow offensive linemen have helped to create all season.

They are the guys who open the initial holes for those 50-, 60- and 70-yard runs by explosive ball carriers like M’Khi Guy, Jakob Price and Destin Piggee.

Hudgins (left) stands with teammates during the national anthem. Photo/Jeremy Clark

They are also the guys doing the heavy lifting during the long, clock-killing drives that usually end with Big Red touchdowns.

That part of their game was really evident on Saturday in the regional final game against Zeeland West at Hackley Stadium. The O-line helped the Big Reds to pile up 267 yards on the ground, including 138 and three touchdown runs by Guy and 93 yards and a rushing touchdown by Price.

The Big Reds opened the game with a 67-yard, 11-play drive that ended with a rushing touchdown. On their second possession they slowly drove 50 yards over 11 plays for another rushing touchdown.

That early 13-0 advantage gave the Big Reds the points they needed to beat Zeeland West 27-20 and advance to the state Final Four.

“If felt good,” Hudgins said about the line’s performance on Saturday. “We came out with the confidence and swag we needed and did our thing.”

Hudgins (seated) and teammates review film and get instructions during last Saturday’s regional championship game. Photo/Jeremy Clark

While blocking play after play is a lot of hard work, Hudgins said, “It’s pretty fun. After every pancake I feel excited, and before you know it, I hear ‘Touchdown!’”

Hudgins said he doesn’t really credit himself for playing well.

“I just think about how I need to get better,” he said.

He said the offensive line has worked hard to get better all season and isn’t done improving.

“Each game you’ve seen us grow, and we haven’t reached out peak yet,” he said.

He said the Big Red linemen never feel jealous about the skill position players getting all the credit for scoring the points, because teammates like Guy, Price and Piggee make sure they feel appreciated.

“They give us a lot of credit,” he said, “There’s nothing but love, day in and day out.”

Hudgins said it’s incredibly exciting to be preparing for a state semifinal game – and a possible berth in the state finals – just a year and a half after he thought he was done with football.

“I’m very pumped,” he said. “I really can’t wait. I can’t put it into words.”