ORLANDO — Before Jacob Pugh was an Under Armour All-America linebacker headed to Florida State, he was just like a handful of boys across Tampa Bay.
He’d sit around the TV every Sunday in the fall watching his uncles, Darren and Troy Hambrick, play in the NFL.
“Everybody’d get together and watch the game on Sundays,” Pugh said Tuesday after Under Armour practice at the ESPN Wide World of Sports complex. “I’d see that and say, 'Man, I want to be that guy one day. I want to be on TV one day.’ ”
Although he lined up for Tallahassee Godby, Pugh is another blossoming branch of one of Tampa Bay’s most bountiful football family trees.
Darren and Troy Hambrick led Pasco High to the 1992 state title — still the only championship in Pasco County history — before launching their pro careers. Darren racked up 263 tackles over a five-year career as a linebacker for the Cowboys, Panthers and Browns. His younger brother, Troy, spent four years with the Cowboys and led them with 972 rushing yards in 2003.
One of Pugh’s cousins, Pasco High product Janarion Grant, dazzled as a freshman return specialist at Rutgers this fall. Two other cousins — also named Darren and Troy Hambrick — had successful careers at Hernando High.
So although Pugh enjoyed basketball at an early age, it’s no surprise he ditched hoops to focus on the gridiron.
“I wasn’t really feeling basketball like I was feeling football,” Pugh said.
Like the elder Darren, Pugh gravitated to defense. Pugh began his career as a versatile end who loved to fly off the edge and attack quarterbacks.
Coaches at Godby eventually switched him to linebacker, where his lanky, 6-foot-4, 224-pound frame made him the most highly recruited Hambrick since his uncles landed at Florida and South Carolina.
Alabama, Florida and FSU were among the three dozen schools to offer him a scholarship before he chose to stay close to home and commit to the Seminoles.
“He’s a great pass rusher,” said Kain Daub, Pugh’s Team Highlight linebacker teammate and a fellow FSU commitment. “He knows what he’s doing. Everything he does is 110 percent.”
That tenacity and his family’s genetic gifts have already helped him live out parts of his dream.
Cameras tracked his two-sack performance in the 2012 Class 5A state championship game, when he led Godby to a 21-20 win over Immokalee. Fox Sports televised his dominance in the preseason, when he roughed up Plant for nine tackles (two for a loss), a sack and three quarterback hurries in a 35-16 victory at Raymond James Stadium.
And Thursday, he’ll step onto Tropicana Field in front of an ESPN audience for the Under Armour All-America Game.
Pugh said he hopes the all-star game is just another step in his career that will take him to FSU and, maybe, the NFL, so he can give the next generation of Hambricks a reason to gather around the TV every Sunday in the fall.
Under Armour All-American game
When: 4 p.m. Thursday
Where: Tropicana Field
Tickets: $18 general admission/$48 family four pack, can be purchased at ticketmaster.com