Out-of-the-ordinary RB Hugh Charles keys Colorado season

Updated: October 18, 2007, 3:59 PM ET
Associated Press

BOULDER, Colo. -- At 5-foot-8, 190 pounds, Hugh Charles certainly doesn't look like a high-caliber running back.

He doesn't even act like one. The Colorado Buffaloes senior enjoys flying airplanes and studying Buddhism.

But the soft-spoken Keller, Texas, native turns into a different person on the football field. And he has been a big reason for the Buffs' turnaround this season. His 522 rushing yards lead the team.

Still, it has been a long, strange trip for the senior. He was one of the most highly sought-after recruits in the country out of high school. When he arrived in Boulder as a freshman, he saw limited playing time. His sophomore season, he broke out in a big way, leading the team in rushing.

Then it seemed to spiral down.

"When I first came up here, especially sophomore and junior year, I was a little nervous coming in. I think that was lack of confidence," Charles said. "Coaching change didn't help (when Dan Hawkins replaced Gary Barnett before the 2006 season). Sharing time with other guys too didn't help. I felt my junior year I was going to be the big dog. It didn't happen for me, so my confidence level was low."

His junior year the team slipped to 2-10. Charles ran for only 779 yards and one touchdown a year after running for 842 yards and six touchdowns.

In their second season under Hawkins, the Buffs -- and Charles -- have turned things around with a 4-3 record.

"We were still in a little rotation and somebody had to come out and prove the coaches wrong, it had to be me," Charles said of the offseason depth chart shake-up. "Because this is my last year, this is what I came here for. Prove myself, prove to my family and friends."

But what's caused the shy running back to take a more proactive role?

"Mom," Charles said.

Charles' mother is a Buddhist. And like any good son, Charles listens to his mom.

"I grew up learning a little bit of Buddhism," Charles said. "I am a senior now and I don't get nervous anymore at all. I think that's a big part of my success this year."

Charles grew up non-denominational Christian and is close to both his parents. His mother and father come to as many games as they can, and he speaks with them both on the phone every week.

His teammates and coaches have noticed the change in Charles' demeanor.

"I think that Hugh has been playing really great and as he does he gains confidence and we gain confidence in getting him into a rhythm," Hawkins said. "It is all of those things pushing themselves together."

The diminutive running back admits to playing with a chip on his shoulder this season. After three roller-coaster years, his final season in a Colorado uniform didn't start well either. He tweaked his hamstring in the season opener against Colorado State.

So he talked to Mom again.

"Whenever I talk to them (mother and grandmother), I keep visualizing spend 10 minutes to yourself, and just visualize," Charles said. "When I was healing I went straight back to visualization, healing the wound."

One of only a handful of senior starters, Charles is the unquestioned leader on the field and in the locker room, quarterback Cody Hawkins said.

"He isn't nastier or meaner, he just knows that he's our guy and you're going to keep getting the ball until you pop one because we know you can, and I think he likes that," Cody Hawkins said.

A leader or not, football players getting advice from their mothers is something of an unusual concept. But no one dares make fun of Charles for it.

"I think it's just awesome because Hugh is a great guy and he is close to his parents, which I think has made him an awesome kid," Cody Hawkins said. "People kind of forget that even if your parents haven't been there before, they can help."

The Buffaloes play Kansas in Boulder on Saturday, when they'll have a chance to knock another undefeated team off its perch. They shocked previously unbeaten Oklahoma at Folsom Field earlier this season.

With a renewed sense of purpose, Charles is ready to take on all comers.

"Take over the North, get to the Big 12 championship and our goals will be reached," Charles said. "I take a breath and then ... it's on."

Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press

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