Speedy tailback climbs depth chart

Forced to return to high school for an additional year to gain eligibility, Ray Hudson's journey to college football took longer than most. And even after arriving in Tuscaloosa in 2000, his relatively small size and a gaggle of tailbacks ahead of him on the depth chart forced a move to defense. <br><br>"Most D-1 schools don't really like short running backs," Hudson explained. "I got used to (playing on defense), but I never really liked it."

With a 4.41 clocking in the 40-yard dash to his credit, Ray is one of the fastest Tiders on the squad. And a 440-pound lift on the bench press last spring set the mark for defensive backs. But finishing up spring practice as no better than No. 4 at cornerback, Hudson was pretty much buried on the depth chart on defense.

Until Tide Head Coach Dennis Franchione got hold of some old tapes from Ray's high school days.

Twisting his body to adjust to the flight of the ball, Hudson hauls in the pass in practice.

As a prep senior in 1999, Hudson rushed for 1,160 yards and 16 touchdowns, which just added to his 2,029-yard effort as a junior. Those yards and 24 TDs earned him the "Mr. Football" designation for Class 3A in his stellar junior year.

But Hudson also put up excellent numbers on defense, and his size had him typecast by most recruiters as a ‘cover corner' in college. "I'm right at 5-9 or 5-10," he explained. "That's what most cornerbacks are. (All the recruiters) told me they were going to give me a chance to play running back, but they also said most likely I'd be a DB."

Hudson spent that first redshirt year and all of spring toiling as best he could at cornerback, but his heart (and talent) simply wasn't in it. "I didn't really like (playing defensive back)," he admitted. "I'm more at home at running back."

As Franchione remembers the story, the Tide coaches finished spring somewhat worried about a lack of speed at the tailback position. And after watching only a few of Hudson's high-school tapes, Franchione saw a chance to possibly solve two problems with one move. Hudson-to-offense immediately transformed a frustrated corner into a happy tailback. But more importantly, it infused some much-needed flash into a somewhat slow running back corps. "Coach (Franchione) told me they liked my speed," Hudson related.

Ahmaad Galloway started versus UCLA, turning in 76 yards on 21 carries, and the junior veteran remains the No. 1 tailback. But the coaches saw enough from Hudson Saturday to prompt a move up the depth chart from third-string to second. "I think (he's moved up)," Franchione said after Wednesday's practice. "He played about the right number of plays the first game and he showed some real promise. He will probably play more this weekend."

Judged ‘too small' to play running back by the previous staff, Hudson's speed and athleticism have now apparently elevated him to No. 2 on the depth chart at tailback.

Hudson was in on 22 offensive plays and seven special teams snaps versus the Bruins. Statistically he had two rushes for 19 yards. "Ray does offer the speed factor," Franchione said. "He's still rough in spots, but the (UCLA) game helped him get better. And more practice and seeing the game film will help him get better still."

Added Hudson; "That was more than I thought I was going to play. I really don't know why I got that many plays. I think maybe the coaches were just trying to get me a little experience. But I'm real comfortable now. All I needed was some snaps during a game."

Galloway and sophomore tailback Brandon Miree handled most of the scrimmage runs for the Tide, but Hudson was part of an exciting late-game, last-ditch effort. Executing the classic ‘hook and lateral' play, Hudson caught a lateral from Freddie Milons and went 21 yards on a play that took Bama from its own 10-yard line to the 36.

"I was close to breaking it," Hudson related. "All I should have done is lean forward. That was close. (The Bruin tackler) got me by just the edge of the shoulder pads.

"Right when I caught the ball after Freddie pitched it to me, I was thinking, ‘Oh man, I can go all the way.' I didn't see anything but green ahead of me. But then the (UCLA defensive back) came back behind me and got me. It was real close."

For the redshirt freshman Saturday's season-opener was a good beginning. "Saturday was pretty good," Hudson said. "I played better than I thought I would, because I was real nervous. I just had butterflies real bad before the game, before I got out there. That hinders the thinking process."

With a 440-pound bench press to his credit, Hudson packs excellent power in his small frame.

When Franchione arrived last winter, one of the promises he made was to design an offense, taking in account both the strengths and weaknesses of Bama's current players. And for much of Saturday's game, whether they ran or passed, the Tide operated out of the shotgun formation. "I really enjoy working out of the shotgun formation," Hudson said. "It just seems like the play is easier to run, and the quarterback is right there beside you. It's easier to communicate. When he's up under the center, I really can't hear him that well."

At the start of Fall Camp the Tide coaches were talking about using Hudson as a specialty player in passing situations, but apparently that role has increased. He explained; "I hope my speed can be a factor. Before the game they were working me more in the regular offense."

Though small in stature, Hudson is a powerfully built athlete. And for most of his high school career he was as likely to run over as around would-be tacklers. Will that style continue? "No; No sir," he replied with a laugh. "Being small has its flaws but also its advantages. It's hard to hit a small back. We're always moving. Of course when you really do get that hard hit, it can be hard to recover from.

"But UCLA never got a good shot at me. Not really."

Franchione has said that as much as 50 percent of the Tide offense was designed this past off-season specifically with the current Tide players in mind. But a version of the TCU option is definitely a part of Bama's offensive playbook. "On the option I'm supposed to keep pace with the quarterback," Hudson explained. "And when the quarterback gets in trouble, I'm the pitch man. I catch the ball and head around the end. Coach Fran likes us to take it around the end. Get outside; use my speed; and take it around the end.

"You can cut it back, but Coach Fran always tells me to go straight. Never cut it back up inside. He wants me to use my speed. He always tells me, ‘Use your speed.'"

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