EDMOND — Darren Huff sat next to his son and tried not to cry.
It wasn't exactly the hard-nosed, tough-guy look that the wrestling coach from Edmond Memorial High normally has.
Then again, this wasn't a normal day.
Huff's oldest son, Ry, signed a national letter of intent Wednesday morning to play football at Air Force. It was the fulfillment of a dream. It was the moment of a lifetime. And it wasn't only those things for Ry.
On a day that was big for hundreds of athletes around the state, it was every bit as significant for the parents who sat by their side.
“God blessed me with a good kid,” Darren Huff said. “I'm just thankful I didn't screw him up.”
Hard to believe that would be possible.
Huff has been coaching other people's kids for nearly three decades, basically since the day he finished his own athletic career. He was a two-time state champion wrestler at Perry High School — where they grow ‘em tough and strong — and then, he went on to wrestle at Central State, now known as Central Oklahoma.
He started teaching at Cimarron Middle School in Edmond in 1984 when he was right out of college. He took over as seventh grade football coach that same year, a job he still holds 27 years later, and became Edmond High's wrestling coach a few years after that.
Think of all the kids who he's coached in that time.
“He's had a huge impact on an enormous amount of students,” said recently retired Edmond Memorial coach and administrator Mike de la Garza, an institution in his own right.
Several of Huff's athletes have had big signing days. Kelly Gregg, who wrestled for Huff, played football at Oklahoma before a long career in the NFL. Johny Hendricks went to Oklahoma State where he won two national championships and launched a mixed martial arts career.
This signing day, though, was different.
“It's a lot tougher when it's your own,” Huff said. “He's accomplished a lot without me having to force stuff on him. I'm very proud of that. To be great, you have to be self-motivated and set your own goals, and he does that.”
Ry became football obsessed as soon as he started playing in fifth grade. He wanted to throw every day.
Then in sixth grade, he started going to the gym every morning to practice kicking. Slowly but surely, he kicked further and further until one day a year or so later, his kicks started hitting the far wall that once seemed so far away.
“Just consumed with it,” his dad said.
The real treat came when the father got a chance to coach the son. Even though Darren now coaches Ry in wrestling, coaching him that first time in seventh grade football was special. Ry played wide receiver and defensive back.
What about quarterback, where Ry excelled this past season before breaking his thumb?
“He was my B team quarterback,” Darren said. “Shows you how much I know about football.”
“I probably enjoyed (that season) more than he did.”
Make no mistake, Darren Huff gets a kick out of coaching all the kids who come his way. All the high school wrestlers. All the seventh grade football players.
Here's how much he cares: he gathers up the kids at some point in every seventh-grade football game and says that anyone who hasn't played needs to line up behind him. Then he starts putting every one of them in the game.
This is the type of guy who you want coaching your kids.
That's obvious in the way he own son turned out. Ry, who is expected to play either tight end or linebacker for the Falcons, is as fired up about the academics at Air Force as the athletics. He wants to major in engineering, possibly the aeronautical kind.
“I've been interested in airplanes all my life,” he said, “so maybe designing airplanes is something really cool I'd want to do.”
That's the kind of thing that made his parents nearly burst with pride Wednesday. There were pictures taken and videos shot. There were hugs given and hands shaken.
And yes, there were tears shed, even by the bulldog of a wrestling coach.
“Coach Huff and Darren Huff are different people,” de la Garza said. “When you're coaching, you take on a persona that you carry, that you have to carry. But at home ... you get to be that other guy.
“He's a real soft-hearted family guy. He couldn't hide that today.”
Didn't seem to want to either.