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Most would take offense at the suggestion they live in a dream world. Brandon Hughes embraces it. "I'm livin' the dream, baby," he says proudly. "And when I'm not livin' the dream, I'm thinking about the dream." | NFL page

The former Bloomington High School and Oregon State cornerback is nurturing the dream every day, making it more real, more his own.

For years, the likeable Hughes had no National Football League aspirations, just a goal of becoming "the best college player I could be."

If not for his mother, Ceneta Brooks of Bloomington, and his seven siblings, he might have left football behind after the Sun Bowl in late December.

"They just kept encouraging me," he said. "I didn't believe I could do it, but they believed I could do it. That helped me get to this point."

Others would love to be at "this point." That is, squarely on the NFL Draft radar.

Hughes put himself there with impressive showings at the NFL Combine in February at Indianapolis and at Oregon State's "Pro Day" in March.

He also has had individual workouts with the Ravens, Jets, Browns and, on Wednesday, the Dolphins.

"The Combine was a real stepping stone," said Hughes, projected to be a third- to sixth-round pick in the April 25-26 draft. "Since then, things have been amazing."

Hughes turned heads at the Combine with an unofficial 4.36-seconds time in the 40-yard dash. It later was "corrected" to 4.5, but Hughes said most scouts had him at 4.4 and three at 4.3.

He added a vertical leap of nearly 37 inches and a broad jump of 10 feet, 8 inches, both quality marks.

The 5-11, 182-pound Hughes also caught scouts' eyes in the position drills. Having played "press" coverage as a four-year starter at Oregon State - that is, jamming receivers at the line - there were questions about his ability to play off the ball, backpedal, etc.

"I don't think they were prepared to see me do as well as I did," he said. "My strength is pressing, but now that I can do both, I have a lot of teams excited."

Hughes' dream gained momentum in January and February when he attended the Tom Shaw Pre-Combine Performance Camp in Orlando, Fla. Among those helping with his footwork, backpedaling, etc., was Pittsburgh Steelers' defensive back Ike Taylor.

The work paid off at Indianapolis, where a familiar face also had an impact.

Ted Schmitz, a former BHS teacher and coach, was instrumental in Hughes getting a late scholarship offer at Oregon State. As Hughes warmed up at the Combine he heard, "Hey, Brandon!"

"I look up and see coach Schmitz there with his hair slicked back and he's smiling and giving me two thumbs up," Hughes said. "That made the day a lot easier for me."

Still, the road has not been easy for Hughes. He didn't learn until August 2004 he had qualified academically to attend Oregon State. He was redshirted that season and converted from receiver to cornerback the next spring.

He developed into a two-time second-team all-Pac-10 Conference choice. Off the field, he has completed his degree in communications with a minor in writing. He will participate in graduation ceremonies on June 13.

"I'm hoping I can be an inspiration to some young guy who is looking to go beyond Bloomington sports," he said.

"I had trouble getting a school. I had grade issues. It's not where you start. It's how you put things in perspective and how you finish."

Randy Kindred is at rkindred@pantagraph.com. The Kindred Blog: www.pantagraph.com/blogs

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