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Powers-Neal sohws he can double as tailback

Matt Lozar | Monday, April 26, 2004

Irish coach Tyrone Willingham knows what fullback Rashon Powers-Neal did in Saturday’s Blue-Gold game.

“Rashon is one of those guys that says to a coach, ‘Coach, I’m going to change your mind.’ The reference is that I’ve got him at fullback,” Willingham said. “The other thing he does is says, ‘Coach, you’ve got to get me more balls.’ And I was pleased with that.”

Two touchdowns and 81 yards on only four offensive touches will make a coach think like that.

Especially after Powers-Neal had four rushing attempts for 16 yards and caught seven passes for 50 yards over the 2003 season.

“I’m going to come out there, play hard and prove to everybody that I am able to play that position and play at a high level,” Powers-Neal said. “I went out there and had fun today and played the best I can.”

The coaches only really used four running backs Saturday – Blue starter Ryan Grant, Gold starter Marcus Wilson, Blue starting fullback Josh Schmidt and Powers-Neal. After Grant showed off improved speed and cutting ability in the first half of the game, the coaches replaced him with Powers-Neal – who took full advantage of the opportunity.

He scored on a 4-yard run in the closing seconds of the first half, which capped off an efficient and impressive seven-play, 97-yard drive using the two-minute drill.

It was when Powers-Neal found the end zone for a second time that really showed where he has made strides.

His third quarter touchdown where Powers-Neal made a little cut to avoid a defender and ran away from the rest of the defense to find the end zone for a 59-yard touchdown is a perfect example of the two areas Powers-Neal worked hard on in the off-season – speed and catching.

In 2003, Powers-Neal dropped a number of passes, especially coming out of the backfield in the flat. That improvement came from what Powers-Neal said is concentrating more when the ball is coming his way.

As for outrunning the defense to the end zone, that’s also something Powers-Neal didn’t show last year in his transition from running back to fullback. With all the weight he gained, the speed seemed to be missing.

“I worked really hard on that in the off-season, getting my speed up, and it’s kind of showing up now,” Powers-Neal said. “I like to think I was always fast, especially with all the weight I’ve gained.”

With the small number of running backs on the team Saturday, the coaches gave him a chance to make a statement, and he did.

“If Rashon keeps doing what he’s doing, he’s going to make me change my mind and move him, so we have some flexibility there,” Willingham said.

As for questions about whether he’s too big to play fullback, Powers-Neal feels that’s not really an issue.

“I could probably play tailback [with the size],” he said with a big smile.