Number nineteen is in the books. In front of family and friends, Robert Hughes selected Notre Dame and became the 19th public member of ND's Class of 2007. Irish fans may have been extremely happy with the aerial fireworks of the past two years, but I'd bet that a vast majority still have a soft spot for the kind of blue-collar, run the ball down their throat, power football that physically and emotionally drains the opponent. Good news for them then as Hughes is a 5'11" 225 pound running back with the size and strength to be an immediate and productive contributor to the Irish running game.
A two-time All-State selection at running back, Hughes had offers from Ohio State, Michigan, Penn State, Wisconsin, Miami among others and in the end decided upon the Fighting Irish over the home state program, Illinois.
Hughes, in announcing his decision before about 120 friends, family members and teammates at Hubbard, cited three key factors: 1) where he would have the chance to "showcase my athletic skills early and on a national level;" 2) "where I want to earn my degree from;" 3) "where I feel most comfortable."The recruiting sites were also pretty unanimous in their take on Hughes' abilities as he was ranked a 4-star, Top 100 player on Rivals and Scout and included on ESPN's Scouts, Inc Top 150 list. He's only the 5th recruit in the current class to be included in all three lists (others are Jimmy Clausen, Gary Gray, Duval Kamara, and Mike Ragone). Combine Hughes with Clausen, Kamara, Greg Little, Ragone, Armando Allen, Golden Tate and I think this is the best offensive skill player recruiting class at ND in a long, long time. (We'll save talk about the defense for another time).
Hughes' commitment also gives ND another player from the Chicago area, joining Aaron Nagel and last's years recruits Demetrius Jones and Serigo Brown. Weis had mentioned the importance of re-gaining a foothold in Chicago and getting these players is a good first step. Hughes and Jones are also notable because they attended schools in the Chicago Public League, a fertile recruiting ground that hadn't seen many Irish players in year's past.
Former Notre Dame and Bears defensive tackle Chris Zorich, who attended Hughes' announcement, said he's encouraged by the Irish's recent efforts to sign Public Leaguers.Given the surprise departure of Darius Walker for the NFL, the running back corp is short on experience and production for next year, but the collection of youth and talent is a great sign for the future. Hughes will add a very physical dynamic to the group and honestly I wouldn't be surprised to see him get the ball next year in short yardage situations. ND only averaged 3.42 yards per carry on third and short this year so getting a bruising running back with fullback size will certainly help. Especially one that relishes in the physical aspect of running the ball.
"There has been such a gap, and I don't want to blame the coaching staffs from that time period," said Zorich, a Chicago Vocational product. "But do you want to tell me that there haven't been good enough athletes in the Public League? Obviously, that's not true."
"That's just how to describe it," Hughes said. "Any time I see a tackler coming up, I take it personal."Past player comparisons are all over the map for Hughes, but names like Greg Jones of Florida State and ND's own Ray Zellars keep popping up, and if that means we're in store for runs like this or, even better, this, then sign me up. You can catch a few video clips of Hughes in action here if you want to make up your own comparison.
ND is entering the stretch run of the 2007 recruiting season with only twelve days left until Signing Day. The Irish might pick up one or two more recruits, and there is always the chance for a surprise, but it's looking like this year's class will number between 19 and 22, meaning that next year there will be 30 players who are 5th years, seniors, or juniors, and 47 to 50 players that are sophomores and freshman.