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Drew Huffman of Cuyahoga Falls has seen the hard work pay off

The 6-foot-7 senior has become one of the Suburban League's best players

CUYAHOGA FALLS, Ohio – When Cuyahoga Falls senior Drew Huffman was in the fourth grade, he was just a skinny kid who couldn’t even dribble a basketball with regularity in youth league games.

“I was bad in elementary school,” Huffman joked.

And then in eighth grade, he barely made the middle school team.

“In middle school, he was one of the last guys we kept,” Cuyahoga Falls head coach Todd Taylor said. “I told the middle school coach, listen, this guy's going to grow. We need to keep him around.”

Taylor’s intuition was right, and Huffman eventually evolved into a 6-foot-7, 210-pound wing who is one of the best players in the Suburban League, averaging 22 points and 13 rebounds per game for the Black Tigers this season.

Even on an off night for Cuyahoga Falls – and for Huffman – in a loss to Revere on Tuesday night, the senior still led the team with 17 points despite only playing 24 minutes. He missed most of the second quarter after rolling his ankle in the final minute of the first quarter, but came back and played the final two minutes of the second and all but two minutes of the second half.

“I just wanted to get back out there with my guys,” Huffman said. “I've been playing with most of these guys since elementary school so it's my last year in high school ball and I just want to get out there and just compete.”

Once he got his feet under him in the third quarter, he was back to being the old Huffman, as he scored nine points in the third quarter and grabbed multiple rebounds.

“I think he bounced back and did a nice job on the glass,” Taylor said. “He started finishing around the basket and also knocked down jumpers. I was pleased to see him bounce back that way. He's been really doing a good job on the glass and seemed to continue to do that tonight. And then to just come back and compete, that was important for him.”

After being a single-digit scorer as a sophomore, Huffman became a 15-point scorer a season ago and then got even better this season as he added more to his game, such as a mid-range jumper that has made him a threat to score on all three levels.

“I think one of his best shots is his 15-to-18 foot jump shot, I think it's phenomenal,” Taylor said. “And that's one of the things he can do this year that he couldn't do in the past. He couldn't score at all three last year. Now he has the ability because he added strength. He can do that for us and we ride him and we're going to give him plenty of opportunities.”

The strength Taylor speaks of came from a rigorous offseason workout plan that took Huffman from 178 pounds to 210 pounds and closer to his target weight of 225 as he started to fill out his 6-foot-7 frame.

“I have to give a lot of credit to our athletic trainer, he helped me tremendously in the offseason, helped me gain 40 pounds,” Huffman said. “(It was) a ton of eating. I had to really work out my calories, really boost that up.”

The workouts have produced the desired results, as the added weight has made him stronger.

“Drew's always been one of those kids who has been in the gym,” Taylor said. “But just the strength, it's night and day from his junior year to this year, let alone from his freshman year.”

The strength isn’t the only noticeable difference in Huffman from his freshman year to now. When he first stepped foot inside Cuyahoga Falls High School, he stood at an even 6-foot. He has grown each year, as he was 6-foot-4 as a sophomore, 6-foot-6 as a junior and now stands a bit over 6-foot-7.

Cuyahoga Falls senior Drew Huffman rises for a dunk against Revere on Tuesday, January 9, 2024. Photo credit: Ryan Isley, SBLive Sports

Cuyahoga Falls senior Drew Huffman rises for a dunk against Revere on Tuesday, January 9, 2024. Photo credit: Ryan Isley, SBLive Sports

And with the extra 40 pounds, it made it easier for Huffman to do something he hasn’t always been able to do in his career.

“It's just made it easier to score obviously,” Huffman said. “I am able to bully kids more. Last year I wasn’t able to do that. I am able to get more points off of just being bigger.”

But with more success comes more attention from opposing players and coaches. After garnering first-team All-Suburban League American Conference honors last year, the attention is something Huffman has had to deal with this season, as teams have geared up defensively to try to stop him.

“It's definitely way different having defenses being played towards you, against you, having defenders just face guarding you and everything,” Huffman said. “It is definitely a different experience but I'm way up for the task.”

He was also up for a different task earlier this season when called upon. With point guard Tim Mitchell hurt, Huffman was asked to play more of a point guard role at times. And while he showed that he can do it, having his point guard out there with him makes life easier for everyone.

“It was really tough because (Tim) is my point guard,” Huffman said. “I had to step in to kind of be the floor general and facilitator and having him on the floor just helps me tremendously.”

It may have as a surprise to most seeing Huffman as the main ball handler, because that isn’t something he was used to doing in the past. And the reason for that was basically because he wasn’t very good at it.

“I used to not be able to handle the ball at all,” Huffman said. “I really worked on my ball handling skills throughout the offseason and it's different for me, but I'm definitely not afraid to do it. I think it's more fun to do it.”

While he has the physical skills to play basketball, he also has the heart and the competitive spirit required to play at a high level. Despite playing on a sore ankle and his team trailing by 22 points with 3:30 left against Revere, Huffman was still the first player diving on the floor for a loose ball on the defensive end.

“That's one thing we always preach is we don't have any control over the other team, officials and so forth, we have control over ourselves,” Taylor said. “We call them winning plays like taking charges, diving on the floor, getting loose balls. It doesn't matter if the score is 60-60 or 60-30 we're going continue to do that.”

Part of that mentality comes from not wanting to let your teammates down, especially when you have been around them for so long.

“These guys are my friends, and they've really helped me,” Huffman said. “My guy Timmy (Mitchell), he's my best friend. I've known him for a long time. We do everything together. And I'm just really happy to be with him still.”

The duo not only plays high school basketball together but are also teammates in AAU on Ohio Xtreme. They won’t be parting ways any time soon, as they have both committed to play basketball at Ohio Christian University after their playing days at Cuyahoga Falls are done.

But those opportunities don’t come without all of time and effort put in during the offseason.

“You can just see the confidence and the jump he made from sophomore to junior year, you know, went from a role player to an all-league player,” Taylor said. “And then this year, I think when it's all said and done, he will be an all-league player as well. And he has a scholarship to Ohio Christian, so just it just goes to show you that if you put the work in, you're going to get rewarded for it.”

-- Ryan Isley | | @sbliveoh