Hussey playing wherever needed for Tarboro

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Shy’keem Hussey, a junior at Tarboro High School, smiles for a portrait at Tarboro High School on Tuesday afternoon in Tarboro.


By Ethan Joyce
Sports Writer

Friday, December 9, 2016

TARBORO — Shy’Keem Hussey had to make a call.

He just had to do it.

As the first half died down during a I-AA third round playoffs matchup with top-seeded East Carteret, the Tarboro High football player noticed the Mariners relied on an underneath throw to his side of the field. With the game locked up at 7, it was time to make them pay for it. 

The Mariners looked to run off some clock and end the first half, but they went back to their faithful set too soon. On the second play of the series, Hussey knew the ball was coming. With senior Romello Denton-Pippin sealing up the receiver’s front, East Carteret’s quarterback was forced to throw high. The pass overshot the wideout, and Hussey pounced. The interception set up an eventual field goal from Dawson Harris for Tarboro’s first lead, one that it didn’t relinquish.

“We had a timeout before that, and I kept telling them (the coaches) that he kept looking to the short route underneath, and if I see it again, I am going to jump it,” Hussey, playing cornerback, said. “So I took my three-step drop, and I played with the other receiver that ran out by me, and once he released the ball, I picked it.”

Sitting in Tarboro coach Jeff Craddock’s office on Tuesday, Hussey considered how much everything — his role, his school, his life — has changed in the last year. Hussey is new to the team but not new to the town. And he’s accepted the task of playing both ways, setting up on defense for the first time at the varsity level. 

Hussey transferred to Tarboro after playing his first two years at Virginia 6-A power Chesapeake Oscar Smith High School, where he only played wide receiver. He spent his freshman season on special teams, but he said he worked his way into the starting lineup during his sophomore year. Hussey said he was one of the team’s top weapons, and it looked like he would be a featured component of the offense the remainder of his time at the school.

But before he knew it, he was moving. Hussey was born in Tarboro, living there before moving to Virginia during middle school. With family in both areas — including his cousin Fookie Williams in the Vikings’ backfield — his mother decided it was time for Hussey to come back to Edgecombe County. 

He got to Tarboro in July, and Craddock noticed during those summer sessions how athletic and sure-handed Hussey was. The trick was figuring how to best implement him. Hussey’s time at Oscar Smith was spent in a spread offense with shotgun snaps and multiple wide receivers. That is far different than the bruising Wing-T that Tarboro runs. The Vikings hadn’t thrown more than 50 times in the past three seasons. That is not a farfetched amount of passing attempts in one game running the spread. 

“It was hard at first,” Hussey said. “I was so used to that fast pace, no huddle. Then I come to the T. 

“I still get [the ball] a little bit, but not as much, but I am just doing what is best with the team.”

Craddock credited offensive coordinator Ricky Babb for adding new wrinkles to utilize Hussey. He’s caught 13 passes for 189 yards and four touchdowns while shifting between wide receiver and tight end. He’s also returned four punts for touchdowns. Hussey’s biggest achievement this season, however, is his transition to defense. 

When Tarboro starting corner Devonta Davis was injured and ruled out for the season, the coaches looked for his replacement. They quickly focused on Hussey. The wideout wasn’t particular interested in that at first, and Craddock said you could tell the attention to detail wasn’t there yet. Hussey continued to work, and he eventually broke through.

“I tell people this all the time that it is a long season,” Craddock said. “People get all worked up in August and early September, and I say, ‘Let’s see how great we are in December.’

“You never know where a kid may fit or find himself, or where a kid, who didn’t start, all of a sudden starts because of an injury, or a kid like Shy, who has been thrust onto the defensive side of the ball.”

Hussey’s first start came against Williamston Riverside, and he recalled the offense testing him. He got burned, he said, but used it to learn. Craddock saw the junior buy into the team’s philosophy and become prideful in the defense. And the Vikings’ unit is one to be proud of, allowing only 6.14 points per game. 

That pride on defense spilled into a pride for the Vikings’ program. Winner of four state titles and going to five straight games from 2008 to 2012, Tarboro is hungry for another. Tonight’s Eastern Regional final against two-time defending champ Wallace-Rose Hill is the next step toward the ultimate goal. The Vikings haven’t played in a title game in four years, and Hussey’s old school came up short last season, losing in a triple-overtime game.

What has led to his success, Hussey said, is how those mindsets have meshed together.

“I know how it feels to be there,” Hussey said. “. . .Last week after the game, I said it was just another Friday me and my brothers get to play.

“We just have to come out with the same intensity at the same level and play hard.”