Saturday, November 26, 2011--Kirkwood's Mike McHugh completes a pass as Staley's Matthew Danbury defends during the first half of the Class 5 MSHSAA Show-Me Bowl football championships at the Edward Jones Dome. Sarah Conard

Sarah Conard

Mike McHugh is tougher than nails. The standout senior wide receiver for the Kirkwood football team played eight of his team’s 13 games with a restrictive brace to keep his shoulder from popping out. The Northwestern recruit suffered a torn left labrum the last Friday in September. He made a block downfield and his shoulder popped out. Kirkwood’s trainer popped it back in only for it to pop out again a short while later. McHugh would miss the entire second half of that game.

He went on the play the rest of the season and helped Kirkwood into its second state title game and first since 2006. The Pioneers lost the Class 5 championship to Staley 35-21 last Saturday at the Edward Jones Dome. Kirkwood, 12-1, remains without that elusive state plaque.

A dynamite playmaker, McHugh caught 33 passes for 980 yards and 16 touchdowns. On the season he scored 20 total touchdowns. The 6-foot-3, 185-pounder is scheduled to have surgery to repair his shoulder the second weekend of December. After three months of rehabilitation he should be ready to begin training for Division I football. But this won’t be the first time McHugh has been on the operating table. The 18-year-old went under the knife last year when he had a staph infection in his chin. It got to the point that he appeared disfigured. “It got bigger as the day went along,” McHugh says. “By 10 o’clock I looked like Jay Leno. It was huge.”

He was admitted to the hospital the next day and was released to recover at home. But the infection returned shortly after he was out of the hospital and he was readmitted later that night.

McHugh remained in the hospital overnight, but the infection came back. The third time was the charm as a different technique killed the staph.

All of this happened from Sunday into Wednesday. When the staph was gone, McHugh was left with an open wound in his chin. He had to keep it clean and stuff it full of gauze. Somehow McHugh managed to play that Friday night against Seckman for the Pioneers. He didn’t start but caught a touchdown pass in the second half.

Saturday night, though, was a different pain. McHugh says it hurt as the final seconds ticked off the clock and he knew there would be no championship for Kirkwood. “It hit me like a train when they took their first knee (to let the clock run out),” McHugh says.

McHugh and his teammates began working toward this season days after the last ended. They were in the weight room every chance they got. They put everything they had into being the best team they could be. It just didn’t go their way. “We knew it was the last time we’d wear these red uniforms,” McHugh says. It’s why peeling his Pioneer uniform off for the last time was the most painful part of McHugh’s career.