September 2, 2018 1:11:32 AM
Adam Minichino - [email protected]
STARKVILLE -- Soccer has been a source of motivation for Jen Huckaby for as long as she can remember.
Growing up, Huckaby was encouraged to finish what she started, so soccer served as the proverbial carrot that drove her to reach her black belt in Taekwondo.
Once Huckaby realized that goal, soccer became a central part of her life, as evidenced by the posters of Mia Hamm and Brianna Scurry that still hang in her room at the family home in Frisco, Texas. The posters have stood the test of time in part because pictures of Shannon Boxx and Abby Wambach are on the back just in case a young player changed allegiance of wanted a different form of motivation.
Huckaby's commitment to soccer has been constant. At 1 p.m. Sunday (SEC Network+), that dedication will be recognized on the Mississippi State women's soccer team's Senior Day. Huckaby, Rhylee DeCrane, Brooke McKee, Courtney Robicheaux, and Carly Mauldin will be honored prior to MSU's game against Austin Peay at the MSU Soccer Field.
"There are endless words I could use besides caring, genuine, honest, trustworthy, loyal, reliable," MSU coach Tom Anagnost said. "But the great thing about Jen is she is selfless. She is servant leader to our team. She embodies so many of the leadership qualities you look for in people."
Huckaby has appeared in one game this season for the Bulldogs (5-0). She played in two games as a junior, 13 as a sophomore, and six as a freshman, when she was named the team's most improved player.
Off the field, Huckaby's faith has played a key role in her time at MSU. Huckaby and former MSU teammate Hannah Smith were featured in "Redefined," a monthly publication by First Baptist Church Starkville, for their roles leading a Bible study group for their teammates.
Ken Huckaby, Jen's father, said the family probably is more proud of what she has accomplished off the field than on it. That doesn't diminish the commitment and perseverance Jen has shown to a sport while earning a spot on the Southeastern Conference's Fall Academic Honor Roll in 2016 and 2017. As a freshman, she was named a Dean's Scholar.
"When she puts her mind to something, even as a little girl, she doesn't give up," Ken Huckaby said. "Even with the Taekwondo you could tell she was going to stick to it until she got her black belt."
Taekwondo is a Korean martial art, characterized by its emphasis on head-height kicks, jumping and spinning kicks, and fast kicking techniques.
Anagnost said Huckaby is a teacher on the sideline. He said she holds people accountable and is a very effective communicator, which is a sign of her maturation because he said she wasn't a vocal player when he took over the program prior in December 2016. Even though Huckaby didn't have a big voice, Anagnost said she knew the answers when he asked questions.
"When she speaks, people listen," Anagnost said. "She always has the interest of what is best for the team when she speaks. I think she has become more and more of a coach's extension, especially off the field."
Anagnost said Huckaby has grown "dramatically" since late last year. He hopes she emerges into an even more vocal presence on the field to help the Bulldogs keep the momentum going for what everyone hopes is the program's first berth to the NCAA tournament.
Huckaby said she earned her black belt when she was in third grade. She admitted she doesn't know if she would have reached black belt if her family hadn't been involved in Taekwondo at the same time. But she had a special motivation because she wanted to join her friends playing soccer. Huckaby said soccer became her focus once she earned her black belt, which enabled her to become a fixture on recreational and competitive teams.
"(Soccer) was definitely her passion," Ken Huckaby said. "From the fourth grade when she got into soccer it was an immediate click and once that light switch was thrown, everything changed."
Ken Huckaby said he remembers coming home with the posters of Hamm and Brianna Scurry, two longtime standouts on the United States Women's National Team, and hanging them in the corners above her bed. The posters have stood the test of time through the family's move from St. Louis to Frisco.
Huckaby, who is going to get married after the season, plans to direct her passion into being a great teammate and staying on top of her studies. She said she her love for soccer has helped her find a way to manage everything. She hopes she can continue to do what she can to help MSU build on a nine-win season in 2017 and take the next step.
"One of our team goals is to make the SEC tournament because we have yet to do that," said Huckaby, who is majoring in kinesiology. "We were just shy of the NCAA tournament, so both of those things are right on the horizon. I am looking forward to knowing the potential we have and that those goals are within reach."
Follow Dispatch sports editor Adam Minichino on Twitter @ctsportseditor
Adam Minichino is the former Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.