College Football

Marquee performer: Huffman's work ethic carries him to top of Wildcats' charts

By Herald-Whig
Posted: Sep. 16, 2020 1:00 am

CANTON, Mo. — When the story of Culver-Stockton College linebacker Dalton Huffman draws Hollywood attention — it may be silver screen worthy someday — he’s already given thought to who should be cast in the leading role.

Matthew McConaughey would be his choice.

“You can see it, can’t you?” Huffman said.

The discrepancy in height and build makes that difficult. McConaughey has a trim 6-foot frame, while Huffman is a stout 5-foot-8, 220-pound bulldozer.

Maybe someone like the 5-foot-7 Tom Cruise would fit the role better.

“I could see that,” Huffman said. “He’d make me look good.”

The Hannibal product has done that all on his own.

A two-time All-North Central Missouri Conference selection at linebacker after leading the Pirates in tackles in back-to-back seasons, Huffman didn’t have an inordinate amount of college suitors. C-SC turned into the perfect landing spot as he became part of C-SC coach Tom Sallay’s first recruiting class in 2017 and shared the mindset anything seemed possible.

Even playing professionally has become a possibility.

Huffman heads into his senior season with the Wildcats as a four-year starter at middle linebacker and within reach of the C-SC all-time tackles record. He’s collected 272 total tackles and 35.5 tackles for loss, and he needs 50 tackles to break the career record of 321 set by Chris Shaul from 1998-2001.

“He’s a guy who practices hard every day, every single day,” said Adam Siwicki, C-SC’s defensive coordinator and linebackers coach. “If he’s in the weight room or if he’s out on the field, he gives it 110 percent every single day. To see him from when he first came in to where he is now, it’s tremendous. He’s going to give you his best every single day, every single rep and play.”

It’s how he got on the field to start.

Penciled in as a sixth-string linebacker during the preseason his freshman year, Huffman was determined to earn playing time. He rocketed up the depth chart and was on the field for a majority of his first career game against Central Methodist, finishing with 11 tackles and one tackle for loss.

He hasn’t come out of the lineup since, playing in 33 career games and twice earning All-Heart of America Athletic Conference North Division second-team honors and receiving honorable mention the other season.

“When you look at him and give him the eye test, he’s probably not the kid that you want,” Sallay said. “But he does everything right.”

It’s made Huffman one of Sallay’s favorite players to coach.

“How do you get to be a favorite?” Sallay said. “He’s got a 3.5 GPA. He’s one of the hardest working kids in the weight room. He’s one of the hardest working kids in practice every day. And he’s good at football.

“You want to be one of my favorites? Do those four things and you can be one of my favorites, too.”

It took Huffman a little while to figure that out.

His success at Hannibal — 220 tackles his junior and senior seasons combined with state quarterfinal appearances for the team — had given him confidence, swagger and respect. That waned when he was challenged once he arrived on the Hill.

“I get here and it’s different,” Huffman said.

Being at the bottom of the depth chart made things tougher.

“I figured I’d try to make special teams,” Huffman said. “Then I talked to my dad one day on the phone and he told me to practice like I did in high school. It worked out in the end.”

That fatherly influence has been strong all along.

“A lot of people don’t have any kind of support other than themselves while striving to be something,” Huffman said. “My dad has been there since second grade. There have been four or five times throughout my life I wanted to quit football. Even though I loved it so much, it was hard, so hard.

“But he instilled that mindset in me that made me who I am today. If it wasn’t for my dad, I wouldn’t be playing college football. I probably would have quit in middle school and would have just gotten a job after high school. He’s a big part of why I’m here.”

He’s a big reason Huffman wants to be equally supportive for his daughter, who is just two months old.

“I don’t care if my daughter or maybe if I have a son if they want to go kick a soccer ball, go paint, want to sing, want to play guitar, play football or whatever,” Huffman said. “I want them to find something they’re passionate about, something I can help them strive to be the greatest.”

That responsibility is pushing him.

He will graduate next May with a degree in criminal justice and with the understanding he will have to work his way up any organizational chain. That’s no different than hurdling himself up the depth chart, so he has all the confidence it can lead to a position on the federal level in due time.

First, he wants to see if playing professional football can happen.

“He’s limited by height and speed, and I tell him that,” Siwicki said. “He has a chance because he’s going to give it his best. You never know who is looking for something, maybe something on special teams. You have to take the chance to see who’s eye you might catch.”

He’s motivated to make that happen.

“This makes it something I have to do for my daughter, not just for myself,” Huffman said. “Even though it’s a long shot, I still have goals and aspirations of playing pro somewhere. I know it’s a possibility. I just need a chance. Now I have something to drive me to work harder than I’ve been working.”

It’s just another chance to prove doubters wrong.

“That’s what has driven me, the mindset people don’t think I should be doing what I’m doing,” Huffman said.

Truth be told, playing linebacker is exactly what he should be doing.

“He’s exactly what you look for in that position,” Siwicki said. “He’s made his mark.”