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Wheat King
2008-07-19, 08:44
Hughes makes it hard on coaches

Rob Vanstone
Leader-Post


Saturday, July 19, 2008


The reviews of Neal Hughes are highly complimentary.

"He has been absolutely sensational,'' Roughriders head coach Ken Miller said Friday. "He has done everything we've asked him to do. He has blocked very, very well. He has carried the ball well. He has caught the ball. And he has consistently been one of our top special-teams performers.''

Hughes has continued to contribute on special teams while also starting at fullback in place of Chris Szarka, who is nursing a broken foot.

The 28-year-old Hughes is to make his fourth consecutive start today when the Roughriders oppose the Montreal Alouettes on Taylor Field. Szarka is a good bet to return July 27, when Saskatchewan plays host to the Toronto Argonauts.

"We think that Chris will probably be ready next week,'' Miller said. "As for how that's going to affect Neal, we may utilize them both at some point, but it'll allow Neal to concentrate a little bit more fully on his special-teams assignments because, certainly, Chris will take some of the offensive reps that Neal has been getting.''

Hughes has rushed for 40 yards, averaging five yards per carry, and has also caught one Darian Durant pass for a three-yard touchdown this season. The major came one week ago in a 33-28 CFL victory over the host Hamilton Tiger-Cats.

"It felt really good,'' Hughes said. "Darian could have thrown to three guys in the end zone there. We were all wide-open. It just happened to come to me and I did the job and contributed.''

The touchdown reception was Hughes' second in his last five games. He was also wide-open in the end zone while catching a short toss from Kerry Joseph in the 2007 West Division final against the B.C. Lions.

"I think a lot of that has to do with the call of the coaches,'' Hughes said. "They put us in good positions. Those calls were both unexpected calls and they caught the defence off-guard. I just did the job catching the ball.''

Hughes, who was a star tailback with the Thom Trojans and University of Regina Rams, was almost exclusively a special-teams player for his first three seasons with the Roughriders. He was incorporated into the offensive package more frequently last season Miller (who was the offensive co-ordinator in 2007) and head coach Kent Austin.

"With all that hard work that you put in, when it kind of pays off it feels that much better,'' Hughes said. "I'm just going to continue to work hard and do the things that I can do on the field and take advantage of the opportunities that are given to me. I'm very thankful that I've been given those opportunities by the coaching staff here.''

Those opportunities have led to touchdowns -- three in his last eight games. In light of that, will Hughes be choreographing a touchdown dance?

"No, never,'' he stated.

"My dance is to hand the ball off to the ref, or keep it if it's a significant one. I've never been one to do that kind of stuff. That's not my style. I'm more old school. If my (former Trojans) coach Gerry Thompson ever saw me doing a dance, he'd probably disown me and tell everybody I went to Riffel or O'Neill or something -- not that they're bad schools.''

The Leader-Post (Regina) 2008