UCF defensive coordinator Dave Huxtable spends his days leading a unit that paced Conference USA in both rushing defense and passing efficiency defense a year ago while ranking second in the league in total defense and scoring defense. He is a passionate figure on the practice field, often livening up a lethargic practice with a Pop Warner-like scream of “WHO LOVES FOOTBALL?”
Huxtable loves the game and his UCF team as much as anyone. But, like with any profession, everyone needs some time away occasionally, that one particular harbor to mentally or physically sail away to and leave the job behind. Huxtable loves baseball. Huxtable loves his family. The two have now converged for him in a spectacular way.
For years, on spring nights after work, the Chicagoland native and Eastern Illinois graduate, joined by his wife, Vicki, has turned in his UCF hat for one of his beloved Chicago Cubs and walked a few hundred yards over to Jay Bergman Field to catch the Knights’ baseball team in action. This year he has done so not only as Dave Huxtable, UCF baseball fan, but also as Dave Huxtable, Jake’s dad.
Jake Huxtable has burst onto the scene this spring as a freshman out of Winter Springs High School. Initially tabbed as a backup, Huxtable made the most of an early-season opportunity and has been a mainstay in the Knight lineup, playing both third base and second base. He has started 23 of UCF’s 26 games this year as of press time, batting a solid .275.
“I am living the dream right now,” Dave admits. “I am here coaching football at a great place with players that I love to coach and I’ve got my son playing baseball a hundred yards outside the back door of the building I’m working in. Right now, life is really good and I am really living a great dream right now.
“We are very fortunate that this has worked out the way it has. I thank the Lord for it every day. I am able to coach football, the game that I love. Jake is able to play baseball, the game that he loves. And, we are able to share those two loves together. Not just Jake and I, but Vicki, my wife, and our family too. We are very fortunate to be in this situation.”
As Jake began to consider colleges, Dave and Vicki let Jake make up his own mind. Through years of coaching and recruiting both for and against many southeastern schools, Dave has a familiarity with most of them. Like any good father, he urged his son to make up his mind based on the best fit, but you can sense that Dave and Vicki probably had a favorite option.
“The only thing that I told Jake was that academics are number one and go where you think you will have the best opportunity,” Dave said. “After academics, then you ask yourself where do you feel you will fit in the best, if you like the coaches, where do you think the coaches will develop you the most as a player and where you think you will have the most opportunity to play.
“I was really happy about it when he chose UCF. I was excited for him, more than I was for me. I was happy for him and thought he was making a great choice. I told him from the beginning of the recruiting process that whether UCF offered or didn’t offer, I didn’t want him to pick UCF because I am here. I wanted him to make a decision because he wanted to be somewhere and to pick where he and he alone though he’d want to go.
“I’m just really proud of him and am really tickled to have him here at the University of Central Florida.”
Jake did pick UCF and the rest has been very happy history. Jake and Dave have a weekly father-son lunch at Knightro’s or Tailgater’s. Dave can make up for many high school games he had to miss due to football commitments by walking to see his son nightly. Jake is receiving a great education and things have worked out exceptionally well thus far on the field as well.
Not that anyone who has been around UCF football and spent time with Dave ever would doubt it, but UCF baseball coach Terry Rooney can confirm that Jake was raised properly.
“He is very coachable and is always going 100 miles an hour in what he does,” Rooney said. “When he plays the position that he does at second and third base, we need a guy that is a hard-nosed, get after it every single day kind of kid. Jake brings that to the table consistently. He will do whatever it takes at third base. He puts his body in front of the ball and continually gets big hits for us in the clutch where you see his mental toughness.
“There are certainly guys out there that might be faster than Jake and there might be guys who are a little bit stronger than Jake, but Jake plays the game the right way. Playing the game the right way is how you were brought up. He was certainly brought up in that environment and obviously coach (Huxtable) deserves a lot of credit for that.”
Jake echoes what Rooney’s trained eye sees.
“(My father) always told me that to play as a freshman, you can’t act like a freshman,” Jake says. “I took that to heart and when I got my opportunity I made the best of it. I don’t feel like a freshman anymore playing, I feel comfortable and confident.”
The Huxtables have long been a tight-knit and athletic family. Dave’s daughter, Shea, is a senior on Georgia Southern’s tennis team. She is 10-4 in dual matches as of press time and, perhaps more importantly, was a member of the SoCon All-Academic team in 2007. Statesboro is not too far from Orlando, but there is a big difference between a couple hundred miles and a couple hundred yards.
“She is so jealous,” Jake says of Shea. “I talk to her about once a week and she thinks that they spoil me, because I’m here and live close to home and I get to see my dad. My dad and I meet up at Knightro’s for lunch once a week and just catch up on things. I ask him how football is going and he asks me how baseball is going.”
Of course, Dave does get to see plenty of Jake’s baseball exploits live and in person as opposed to scanning box scores from afar and waiting for the phone to ring. Without being prompted, both Jake and Dave Huxtable described the same moment as being their favorite of Jake’s freshman season to spend together. That came on March 14 against Northern Iowa in a scoreless game in the bottom of the second inning when Jake ripped the first offering that he saw from Brian de la Torriente over the fence in left center for a two-run home run, the first of his collegiate career.
“It was great to have him there for my first home run,” Jake recalled. “Actually, when I was rounding third base, he was standing up there by third base and when I rounded it I gave him a little head nod so it was nice.”
“I was so happy for him and happy that he was able to contribute to the team as a freshman,” Dave said. “I know great things are about to happen over there to that baseball program. Jake is doing his best to contribute to that program winning and get to Omaha.”
Baseball and football are both games of numbers and 333.8 is a number which intermingles in Dave Huxtable’s professional and personal life. The UCF defense spearheaded by Huxtable allowed just 333.8 yards per game last fall. Also, 333.8 yards is also not far off of the physical distance from Dave Huxtable’s office in the Wayne Densch Sports Center to Jake Huxtable’s figurative office at third base at Jay Bergman Field. The first set of 333.8 yards for Dave is the net result of countless hours of film study, tactical scheming, practice repetitions, conditioning, motivating and stressful game day reactions. The second set of 333.8 yards represents pure love for Dave. It is all the distance he needs to mentally sail away and savor one of greatest gifts a father could ever ask for.