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Mike Hughes Steps In, Finds End Zone in 1st NFL Game

MINNEAPOLIS – First game, first interception and first touchdown for Vikings first-rounder Mike Hughes.

On third-and-8 from the San Francisco 20, 49ers quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo faced a formidable Vikings defensive line and forced a throw. Hughes saw the pass and made his move to pick the ball from the air.

He didn't just stop there, though.

Hughes sprinted straight for the end zone, and teammates immediately pounced. The cool and calm rookie found himself immersed in the emotions.

"I kind of blanked out. I was just amazed," Hughes told media members following the Vikings 24-16 defeat of the 49ers. "All my teammates came around me, we were celebrating, I was getting the crowd hyped – it's a great feeling, man."

The rookie didn't take all the accolades, instead giving props to the front four. Danielle Hunter got his hand up in the face of Garoppolo, but linebacker Eric Kendricks also pushed through to add extra pressure.

"[Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer] called a great defense, [and] I give a lot of credit to the D-line, they got good pressure for Garoppolo to throw that ball," Hughes said. "I took advantage of it and found the end zone."

Safety Andrew Sendejo, who celebrated his 31st birthday Sunday and is the oldest player on Minnesota's roster, praised Hughes but also deadpanned that he can no longer play the youngster card.

"It was good, little rookie getting his feet wet, jumping right in, getting a pick six," Sendejo said. "That was good for him, and it's always good early in the season to get your hands on the ball and get a pick.

"He got thrown right in, got a full dose of defense and special teams, so now he can't have any more excuses about being rookie," Sendejo added.

Hughes' play marked the first time in Vikings franchise history that a rookie has recorded a pick six in the season opener.

Hughes stepped in during the second quarter when cornerback Trae Waynes left the game with an injury.

While it's always unfortunate to see a teammate go down, Hughes said he pays attention to details so that he's ready when the opportunity presents itself.

"We always preach, 'One guy goes down, the next man up,' " Hughes said. "So that's pretty much what happened today."

He added: "Today my number was called, I took advantage of every opportunity, all the guys around me helped me out; they trusted me to do my job."

Harrison Smith said that the way Hughes carries himself communicates that "he's not going to freeze up on the big stage," and it was proven Sunday.

On San Francisco's series following the interception return for a touchdown, Hughes came up big again. The Niners had a chance to score on third-and-6 from the Vikings 15, but Hughes disrupted a pass in the end zone intended for Pierre Garçon.

The play forced the 49ers to settle for a field goal.

"I thought I had another pick," Hughes laughed. "I kind of tripped on the turf and just kind of made a play, broke it up."

Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer said he didn't give Hughes much instruction when moving him from nickel to outside other than, "Get out there and cover the guy."

Zimmer said Hughes made a few mistakes, as well, that will need to be corrected but overall was pleased with his performance. It wasn't part of the plan that Hughes would play so much of the game at corner, but Zimmer said that coaches "expect him to go out there and do that."

"I mean, that's why we drafted him," Zimmer said. "Everybody was complaining about taking that corner [30th overall, but] I'm glad we had him today."

Hughes first action of the day actually came on special teams.

Minnesota started on offense and was forced to punt, and Hughes served as a gunner and downed the ball at the 49ers 4-yard line.

"I saw the returner bluffing, he didn't fair catch the ball, he was acting like the ball was going somewhere else," Hughes said. "I tracked the ball and made a good play."

Hughes acknowledged some pregame nerves but said he shook them off pretty quickly.

"We all get butterflies. If a player tells you he doesn't get butterflies before a game, he's lying," Hughes said. "I think it's natural. But after the first play, I was good. Kind of settled in, went through my calls and just played within the scheme."

On a day where the Vikings made several splash plays defensively, Hughes said the team has "a bright future" but that it's important to keep working to get better.

The afternoon wasn't without a handful of big gains by San Francisco, and Hughes already is looking forward to breaking down the game Monday and moving forward.

"We left a lot of mistakes out there," Hughes said. "I see us doing a lot better, and that's why we have to get back to work tomorrow."

The rookie plans to keep his touchdown ball in the family – either hanging onto it himself or giving it to his mother for display in the house he purchased her this spring.

And hopefully, there will be more to come.

"It's surreal," Hughes said of the moment he entered the end zone. "But doing that just makes you want to do more. We're going to get back to work, and hopefully I can get [another] one next week."