Allen, Hughes Looking to Contribute

The running back group might be the deepest on the Irish team in terms of talent. Travis Thomas returns after a season at linebacker, while James Aldridge appears to be 100 percent healthy. Junior Jabbie would start on numerous college teams. Two freshmen, Armando Allen and Robert Hughes, are beginning to make their presence known on the practice fields.

Strating September 1st, the freshmen duo will try to turn solid fall camps into productive Saturdays for Notre Dame when the season kicks off against Georgia Tech. Allen has wowed people, including his own head coach Charlie Weis, with his speed. Hughes is more of a bruiser at 5-11, 238 pounds but showed some solid moves in the open practice back on August 11th. These two, along with Thomas, Aldridge and Jabbie, gives the Irish plenty of options for Weis at the running back position and the freshmen think the competition only makes them better players.

"Being a part of a talented team increases your chances of winning games," Hughes said. "That's what it's all about. Winning games and being a part of a team."

"Being a part of a deep running back core is unique to me because we get to learn from each other," Allen said. "We all have a role and my role is to go out there and give 110 percent and show the coaching staff that I can play."

These two are still youngsters and learning the game. While there's no doubting their talent, there's nuances the freshmen have yet to master. A huge benefit is Thomas's presence back at running back. The Washington, PA native returned back to offense in the spring time and was named a captain for the 2007 season. Weis always credits Thomas's hard work and leadership skills. It's evident with his tutelage of Allen and Hughes.

"Me and Travis have a great relationship," Allen said. "Whenever I'm in doubt or when I messed up on a play, I always go to Travis and ask him what I did wrong. He'll correct me and give me better direction for the next play."

"There have been several situations where I'm like, ‘What do I do on this play?'" Hughes said about Thomas. "He coaches me up. I give him a nudge because sometimes you don't want to ask coach. So you give him a nudge and say, ‘What am I supposed to do?' It's a lot of fun to have a guy with experience and knows what's going on. He can actually tell you things."

Hughes got praise from Weis on Thursday. The Irish head coach, in response to a question, said the Chicago, IL native has the vision and footwork of a smaller running back while still possessing all the 238 pounds the freshman is listed at. Another feature Weis liked about Hughes was his pass catching ability. Last year, Darius Walker caught 56 balls out of the backfield. Weis said Hughes has "soft hands" and it's a feature of the game the Chicago native doesn't take lightly.

"I take a lot of pride," Hughes said about his hands. "As a running back, I think you should be able to catch the ball. You have to have reliable hands. The team puts the ball in your hands and they need you to take care of it. In the system, there are opportunities."

Hughes doesn't just want to be known as the classic power back. The freshman wants to be great in all areas of the running back position.

"I like to say that I can do a lot of stuff, whether it's catch the ball, turn on the jets or go right through," Hughes said. "I don't classify myself as a one type guy. I try to go out and do everything."

Allen was an early enrollee back in January and was able to participate in spring practice. It was the first time the Opa Locka, FL native had been on the field in live contact for some time. Allen broke his fibula before the start of his senior season, forcing him to miss the entire year. Despite the injury, it didn't scare away teams in the recruiting process and Allen eventually decided on Notre Dame. It was refreshing for the freshman to get back into football situations during spring ball.

"Coming in early for me was beneficial because of my injury," Allen said. "I was out of football for a year. It was good to get out there again and get hit. It was something that definitely needed to happen. It kind of slowed up camp for me but it made me work harder. In the spring, I had a lot of things to do to play catch up. But it was beneficial."

Allen's skills are easy to see. The freshman is one of the fastest players on the team and an excellent compliment to the power running game of Hughes and Aldridge. Expect Weis to utilize the speedster in several different ways on offense, whether that be running the football or through quick, short passes. But it wasn't all a cakewalk for Allen to learn the college game. The freshman had his share of speed bumps in the learning process.

"The biggest adjustment for me was reading defenses," Allen said. "In certain situations, you have to understand what the defense is doing. In high school, I didn't have too many defensive players moving around. I kind of got help from the older guys, like from Travis Thomas. He would tell me what defense I was going against, which was beneficial. Now, things have slowed down for me."

While Allen got to go through spring practice, all Hughes could do was watch on the sidelines. Literally. The Chicago native, after rushing for 1,780 yards and 22 touchdowns in his senior season, was just a short car drive away from South Bend. With his high school football year over, Hughes took the initiative and showed up at several spring practice sessions.

"The biggest thing I got out of it was seeing other players here," Hughes said about watching spring ball. "Once your high school season ends, there's a long drought. But I love football. Attending the whole deal put a smile on my face and knowing that football is still around. I was pretty anxious to get out there."

Together now on the field, Allen and Hughes should be fixtures in the backfield for years to come. Weis has said he can easily see all five running backs getting playing time on Saturdays. That's good news for the two freshmen, who some have compared to Reggie Bush and Lendale White, both classmates, one with speed and another with power. The duo isn't looking too far ahead and are focused squarely on contributing in 2007.

"We haven't really talked about the future," Allen said of him and Hughes. "We talked about doing whatever we can to get on the field this year and help the team do the best."


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