Football Provides An Escape For Hughes Family

It was a heck of a birthday present for Robert Hughes's mother. His three-yard touchdown run on Notre Dame's first possession against Navy on Saturday, brought a little joy to a week that turned the freshman running back and his family's lives upside down.

Dealing with the death of his older brother, Earl "Tony" Hughes, who was shot and killed on Chicago's West Side, last Tuesday morning, the 5-foot-11, 238-pound Hughes used football as an escape.

So did his family.

His mother, sister, uncle and another family member were inside Notre Dame Stadium the day after burying the 24-year old Hughes, when his little brother scored his second-career touchdown on his only carry of the game. Head coach Charlie Weis was going to do whatever he could to get Hughes a touchdown on this day, and he was mobbed by teammates in the end zone and on the sideline. The football was kept and will be given to the family.

"It was really huge for me and my family, especially coming off the loss of my brother," Hughes told the media on Tuesday. "Me getting back here and scoring a touchdown was pretty big. It was my mother's birthday so it kind of made her day a little bit.

"Before the game, I asked my mom if she was coming so I could put her on my ticket request. She said she needed to come and wanted to come. So it was a good trip to get out of Chicago and to come here and see the game and get the whole Notre Dame atmosphere."

And somewhere, Hughes knew his brother was flashing a big smile when he crossed the goal line.

"I just felt like he was looking down on me and I knew wherever he is, he is smiling and saying congratulations," Hughes said. "He was at the Michigan State game when I scored my first touchdown and I seen how happy he was so all I could do when I scored the touchdown in this game; I just went back and related to when that happened."

Hughes's brother was his best friend and mentor. The two have been playing football together their whole lives, and the rodeo, an odd thing for inner-city Chicago kids to be involved in, but something their father introduced to them. Over the bye week, Hughes was able to spend a lot of time with his brother, and those memories along with everything else will be thought about and cherished regularly.

"Yeah, a lot of times it was just going to the park, running through the park, throwing the football," Hughes said. His brother was a personal trainer. "He was a running back in high school and he was always a level ahead of me so he said I had to get bigger, faster, and stronger. We were always working on different things and doing different stuff. Yeah, he basically trained me."

He looks like he did a good job, as Hughes physically looks more like a running back for the Chicago Bears, than a guy fighting for reps on Notre Dame's depth chart.

The memory that sticks out the most is from three years ago.

"There is a ton of stories," Hughes began with a smile. "I guess my most memorable moment with my brother; we were in the rodeo and we were going through the event called the relay race and we were on a team with me and my sister. His saddle got loose and he was slipping off the horse and I ran out there and he jumped onto my horse. The whole idea of me saving my brother and us being together on the horse and him not being hurt or anything; that was one moment that I'll never forget."

Hughes's mother called at 7 a.m. that terrible morning, and wanted Weis and a few other coaches to break the horrible news to Robert. So Weis, Mike Haywood, Rob Ianello and Corwin Brown sat him down and told him what nobody ever wants to tell anyone.

"It was pretty traumatic because that was his best friend," Haywood stated. The Irish offensive coordinator has lost two brothers to what he said was health issues, and can kind of relate to what Hughes is going through. "It's one of those things that you've probably never experienced as a coach before but you just learn how to deal with it.

"He's becoming stronger everyday, and he talks about his feelings a little more often. He's getting back into the main stream of things right now."

The team rallied around Hughes. Roughly 50 players and coaches made the trip to Chicago for the memorial service the Friday before the Navy game. Hughes, who went back and forth from Chicago and school during the week, always had teammates around and in his dorm room, where he didn't sleep for two days, trying to help comfort him until he finally did fall asleep.

"Being around the coaches and the players was a huge difference-maker for me and keeping my mind off everything that was going on back home," Hughes said. "It allowed me to get active and run around and release some of the pain and pressure that I felt."

Hughes credits his brother for sculpting him into the young man he is today.

"Everything that I stand for today was because of my brother," he stated. "He pushed me and taught me everything I know as far as growing up. As a young guy playing peewee ball, we always worked out together. He was such a motivator for my life and what I stand for today."

Something else, Hughes's mother can be proud about. Top Stories