Confident Runner

Hugh Charles/AP

In the past four games, Hugh Charles has rushed for 100 yards or more. Last week, he ran for a personal-best 171 yards vs. Kansas State, a team with a pretty good run defense. Coaches say Charles is running with more aggression. Where did that come from? Part of the answer may surprise you.

It turns out, in order to become more aggressive on the football field, Hugh Charles has been practicing being more mellow. At least in his mind.

Head coach Dan Hawkins has noticed Charles' improved play. He said the 5-foot-8, 190-pound runner has been more assertive. The past two games, especially, Charles has been racking up impressive gains in that important category called "yards after contact," Hawkins said. That means he's been taking on tacklers, breaking their grip and gaining more ground.

It culminated last Saturday when Charles was one of the few bright spots on the CU team. He ran 22 times for 171 yards. That's an average of 7.7 yards a carry. He's currently third among Big 12 rushers, averaging 87 yards per game.

"I think that is a reflection of his confidence in himself in being able to run through guys," Hawkins said.

Charles has the attention of the Buffs' next opponents, the Kansas Jayhawks. KU linebacker Joe Mortensen gave Charles props this week.

"Charles is a hard runner," Stuckey said. "He's quick, he's fast and he's strong. He's the best tailback we've seen all year, for sure. He'll make you miss and he'll also put his head down and try to knock you over, so he's definitely one of the best tailbacks in the Big 12 and he's a complete back; he can also catch the ball."

Charles has always had breakaway speed, and he's been one of the best players in the weightroom since the day he stepped on campus as a true freshman. His weightlifting numbers consistently rank him at the top in his position category.

But to hear an opponent describe Charles as a player who will "put his head down and try and knock you over" may be new.

Funny thing, when asked about his success of late, Charles credits his mother, with whom he talks weekly.

"She's Buddhist. I grew up learning a little bit of Buddhism. There's a chant that I do with myself, and she chants with me," Charles said, adding the practice has helped him focus his mind before games recently.

"The first two years I was here, I got pretty nervous before games," Charles said. "My mind was going all over the place, and I really wasn't focused on the game."

He said part of his pre-game mental preparation is visualizing what he's going to do on the field.

Charles also said looking at film of former CU tailback Eric Bieniemy — a player with similar size and with a ferocious running style — also made an impact. (Charles' position coach and former Bieniemy teammate Darian Hagan showed him the film.)

It's added up to a more confident player.

"I wasn't really confident in myself just yet," he said of his previous running style. "It took a little longer than I expected to really feel comfortable."

Teammate Cody Hawkins has a different insight into Charles' success this year. He pointed out that the blocking schemes and running lanes are different under the current offensive staff than they were under the former staff during Charles' freshman and sophomore seasons. The field in front of him looks different.

"When you're a running back, feel is so important," Hawkins said.

Asked if he was surprised a football player would admit to getting sage advice from his mother, Hawkins turned comedian. He said, "My mom is always good for a little bit of (football) advice — even if she doesn't always know what she's talking about."

Hawkins added (in serious tone), "getting advice from your parents always helps."

As the season moves past the midway point, Charles said it's imperative for the CU running game to continue to improve. He knows a lot of that falls on his shoulders. He's not surprised with his own improvement.

"It's all about growing up," he said. "I would get little bits of information from everybody — from different coaches, from my mom, friends. You just soak that all up and apply it on the field."

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