It’s appropriate that it was Robert Hughes that plowed through Trojan defenders on his way to the game-winning touchdown in the Coliseum for the Irish last Saturday. The touchdown brought a great deal of symmetry to the career of the Chicago native, who bowled his way into the collective thoughts of Notre Dame fans at the beginning of his career, seemed to get lost in the shuffle during the middle, and made a triumphant return to close out the season.
Mark Potash of the Chicago Sun-Times had a great article on what makes Hughes different than your average college athlete, and how he kept positive and stayed a team leader throughout the times when things weren’t going his way.
When Brian Kelly replaced Charlie Weis as head coach after last year, the 5-11, 245-pound Hughes was the odd man out in Kelly’s spread offense. He had just 15 touches through the first nine games, most of them in mop-up situations. And his team was 4-5.
He had a lot to mope about. Instead, he always seems like the happiest guy leaving the practice field. Why?
“I think it all depends on who you are and what your goals and aspirations are in life,” said Hughes, who rushed for 1,780 yards and 22 touchdowns as a senior at Hubbard High School in 2006. “My goals go way beyond the football field. You have to be a man about the situation. And being 4-5 doesn’t mean it’s the worst thing. There are a lot of things that can go bad. You continue to right.”
Hughes’ goals beyond football?
“Just to be a great father one day … be a great man in general,” he said…
Regardless of how that turns out, Hughes said he has no regrets about his time at Notre Dame.
“It changes you as a man,” he said. “You learn different things. You get a top-notch education. You meet friends you’ll have for the rest of your life.”
Even if he was in this situation two years ago, he said he would not have transferred.
“Because I love Notre Dame,” he said.
It’s easy for people to forget, but Hughes won one of the more emotional battles the Irish have seen in recent years when he put up a 100 yard game after learning that his older brother was shot and killed during his freshman season. It was an emotional lift for Hughes and the team at the end of the dreadful 2007 season.
The Sun-Times also points out a pretty astonishing quote about Hughes’ playing time. In the 10 games where Hughes had 10 carries or more in his career, the Irish are 9-1 in those games and Hughes averages 5.1 yards per carry. You can argue the merits of the teams Hughes put those numbers up against, but it’s great evidence that even though Hughes didn’t get as much playing time as he probably hoped, he capitalized on the opportunities given to him.
It’ll be interesting if Hughes finds life in football after Notre Dame, but one thing that’s fairly certain is that wherever Hughes ends up after his time in South Bend is over, he’ll be doing great things.