It can’t be measured like size, speed and strength, but it could be the most important characteristic a coach wants in an athlete.
If that were the case, Huffman’s Gage Hulse would be a high major DI basketball prospect with offers from every national power program.
Hulse was born with pectus excavatum -- a structural deformity of the anterior thoracic wall in which the sternumand rib cage are shaped abnormally. This produces a caved-in or sunken appearance of the chest.
What it means is that Hulse struggled to breath for his entire life, while playing and living through pain.
“I used to play football up until ninth grade,” he said. “It was tough. I’d have to sit out at times and take my pads off to catch my breath. The condition is pretty dangerous because it affects your heart and lungs. I couldn’t have gone through this without my family and friends supporting me.”
Fast-forward to his senior season and Hulse has led Huffman to an undefeated district title, while averaging over 17 points per game.
“Probably my most memorable moment was cutting down the nets when we clinched the district title,” he said.
But it’s been a long road to getting atop that ladder a few weeks ago.
The condition got to the point of surgery during his junior season. He had the surgery in November and really didn’t get out of his recliner or months. He missed his entire junior season.
“It was a really big set back,” he said. “I lost a ton of weight and couldn’t do anything but dribble a ball around the house and sit in a recliner for about three months. I leaned on my faith in God. My motivation was to get back on that court and prove everyone wrong.”
While it took some time, Hulse would get back on the court. The UIL graciously granted him his junior season back, giving him more time to get healthy. Two bars were inserted into his chest and wrapped around his ribs to relieve the pressure from his lungs and heart, which took some getting used to.
He returned to the court last season and led Huffman to a third-place finish, averaging 14 points. Not bad for just getting your wind back.
“It did help my breathing, but if I drew a charge or got bumped during a rebound, it was pretty painful,” he said.
He earned all-district honors and then began preparing for his senior season. He played for Texas Supreme Kings during the summer and did personal training on the side. He came back with a vengeance, averaging 17 points, seven rebounds and five assists per game.
“When we are firing on all cylinders, we are one of the best teams in the state,” he said. “If we can get past the third round, I like our chances at state.”
While he has unfinished business at Huffman, Hulse has visions of playing college hoops.
“I’ve been offered by Howard Payne University and just went on a visit to Wayland Baptist,” he said. “I will be taking other visits after the season and make my decision from there.”
With a DI heart, Hulse will make any program proud to don their uniform.