Extraordinary Teen Awards 2023

Greatness comes in many forms, whether it’s pioneering research, soul-bearing works of art or the simple gift of making people laugh. Meet this year’s exemplary students.

W-L graduate Elijah Hughes will play football at Stanford. (Photo by Skip Brown)

Elijah Hughes

Washington-Liberty High School

Elijah Hughes is an all-around athlete if ever there was one. He made W-L’s varsity football team as a ninth-grader, and by sophomore year was also a starting center on the basketball team and a pitcher on the baseball team. As a junior, he hopped on the track and field team for one season and qualified for states in shot put. 

But his first love is football. 

“There’s no better feeling than making a tackle behind the line of scrimmage and everybody celebrating,” says the Arlington phenom, who turns 18 in June. He graduated with a 4.0 GPA and was recruited by Stanford, Virginia Tech, UVA and the University of Miami, to name a few, but he’s taking his love of the game to Division I powerhouse University of Southern California, where he plans to study business and play football on a full scholarship.

Hughes wasn’t always the gridiron threat that he is today. As a seventh-grade cornerback for the Arlington Youth Football Club, he was the smallest player in his weight class, terrified of getting pummeled on the field. “I’d pretend to get blocked and hope someone else made the tackle,” he recalls. “One time, I ran away from the ball.” 

After gaining 30 pounds and a bit of confidence over the summer, he began playing defense in eighth grade and never stopped. Now, 6 feet 3 inches and 270 pounds, the defensive lineman was named Northern Virginia Hall of Fame football player of the year last fall and made first team all-state. 

He counts his father, who played football at the Air Force Academy, and older brother, who currently plays for the Hokies, among his role models.

Josh Shapiro, W-L’s football coach, says Hughes is one of the best players he’s ever encountered: “He has a mindset that’s incredibly disciplined. His work ethic is tireless. His drive to succeed is second to none.”

Hughes also credits his mom, a psychologist, with helping make him the athlete he is today. At the beginning of high school, he struggled with performance anxiety and turned to her for guidance. She taught him the importance of staying in the moment and repeating certain phrases to calm himself down. He’s learned to trust his instincts.

“If you think too much, you’ll miss an opportunity,” he says. “On any given day you can have the best game ever or the worst game of your career. You never know what’s going to happen. That’s the beauty of it.”

Categories: People