Savon Huggins' father, Wendell, has always tried to find a bigger pond to test his son -- sink or swim -- but Savon has always risen the top.
When Savon dominated the Pee Wee ranks, his father enrolled him in the New York Giants' football camp with Dhani Jones. He was named the camp MVP -- when he was 8.
After Savon collected camp MVP honors for three or four more consecutive years, the camp instructors pulled Wendell aside. "The camp coordinator was like, 'Look, he's standing out too much. He deserves the MVP, but we want to give it to another kid,'" Wendell recalled.
These days, the same storyline applies: Put the Jersey City (N.J.) Saint Peter's junior in a position where he can showcase his skills, and the ESPNU 150 Watch List prospect will stand out. He's widely considered the top tailback in New Jersey, and his mailbox is a testament to that.
"There's a whole boatload of letters coming in now," Savon said. "Sometimes there's so many that I don't feel like looking at them all, but it's pretty cool."
Buried in those stacks of mail -- he received 20 letters at school and a half-dozen at home, just on Monday -- is quite a few from Penn State. Assistant coach Dick Anderson has already stopped by Saint Peter's twice this month to speak with Savon and teammate Sheldon Royster.
Savon boasts about a dozen scholarship offers, and he expects to soon add the Lions to that list. He visited Happy Valley for a weekend in December.
"Everybody's close-knit over there, and the campus is beautiful," Savon said. "I'm not a big fan of cold weather, but Penn State just changed my whole mind about the cold because of the way it's set up.
"The coaching staff is really hands-on, but they're on you to make you better. Paterno, I talked to him briefly, and was telling me, 'I heard you were good,' and we just laughed. He seemed like a cool person."
The 6-foot, 195-pounder shifted his focus to football when was 8. Before then, it was karate -- and, of course, awards and accolades were part of everyday life in the Huggins household.
He was already prepared to test for his black belt before he reached 10 years old, and his father said he resorted to storing most of Savon's karate trophies in a closet because there was no room elsewhere.
"With all this attention, a kid has a tendency to stop working and think he's arrived," Saint Peter's coach Rich Hansen said. "And that's not his mental framework. The sky's the limit with him."
As a freshman, Savon registered more than 500 rushing yards. As a sophomore, he increased those numbers by about 200 yards. And as a junior, he topped the charts by rushing for 1,544 yards (7.3 ypc) and 22 touchdowns.
And it's not just the stats that have improved. His coach said Savon earned the reputation early on as a quick tailback, but he hit the weight room hard -- and that work has materialized on the field. "Now, he runs people over and can run away from them," Hansen added.
That fact is not lost on colleges in the market for a running back. Savon's heard from all over the country, and he said he's trying to take the recruiting process slow as a result.
"All my options are open," Savon said, "and Penn State, Rutgers and Miami are a few I like."
During his visit to the Lions before Christmas, Savon said, he spoke with junior tailback Stephfon Green about what to expect. Green and the Penn State coaches didn't sugarcoat anything. "Penn State was straight up," Savon said, and that made an impact.
"For someone to sit down and talk to me and tell me how Penn State really is — because some coaches are going to tell you what you want to hear — well, those [Penn State] coaches weren't lying," Savon said. "So that really gave me a very good feeling about Penn State.
"And that tradition — you can't get much better than that. And I want to go to a school with some tradition."
A look around at some of the best ESPN affiliate team sites have to offer today. Some of the following links may require a premium subscription to the ESPN affiliate site.
Michigan State (www.spartantailgate.com)
Notre Dame (www.irishsportsdaily.com)
Ohio State (www.bucknuts.com)
Penn State (www.nittanynetwork.com)