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RASHON POWERS-NEAL: Fullback’s season steeped in speculation, mystery

Matt Puglisi | Friday, November 18, 2005

Heading into the 2005 campaign, speculation on Irish fullback Rashon Powers-Neal centered on his role in the upcoming season: would he play running back exclusively, continue to function primarily as a fullback or split time almost evenly between the two positions? Three months later, Powers-Neal’s name still conjures speculation, but of a significantly different nature.

After scoring six touchdowns in his first four games, Powers-Neal hasn’t seen the field since Oct. 1 against Purdue.

While Irish coach Charlie Weis and the Notre Dame coaching staff have refused to comment on the source of Powers-Neal’s mysterious absence from an offense in which he was expected to be a large contributor, Weis did drop a hint at a press conference Tuesday.

Weis was asked if he’s been in contact with Powers-Neal and if the St. Paul, Minn. native may return for his final game at Notre Dame Stadium tomorrow against Syracuse.

“There’s a possibility [he will return],” Weis said. “And yes, I have talked to him.”

While Powers-Neal’s 2005 season has certainly been unconventional, it started on a similarly unusual note.

Entering the anxiously awaited season opener at Pittsburgh Sept. 3, Powers-Neal, a player with three career rushing touchdowns in as many seasons, matched his college total in a little more than half a game.

Experiencing little trouble controlling an overwhelmed Panthers defense, the Irish frequently found themselves in the Pittsburgh red zone. And nearly every time they reached the red zone, Weis and Notre Dame turned to Powers-Neal.

Carrying the ball eight times, the fullback demonstrated just how strong his nose for the end zone is, scoring three times on runs of two, nine and four yards in the second and third quarters of a 42-21 Irish route of the Panthers.

After picking up 19 yards on six carries in Ann Arbor against rival Michigan the following week, Powers-Neal was strangely missing from Notre Dame’s heart-breaking 44-41 overtime loss to Michigan State in the Irish home opener.

As freshman fullback Asaph Schwapp fumbled at the goal line – a mistake that ultimately proved to be the difference in the game – and later was stuffed on a crucial fourth-and-one deep in Spartan territory in the wanning minutes of a furious Irish comeback effort, questions concerning Powers-Neal’s absence naturally arose.

But one week later, the fullback was back on the field in Washington and picking up where he left off against Pittsburgh, running the ball nine times for 30 yards and his fourth touchdown of the season as the Irish beat up former Notre Dame head coach Tyrone Willingham and his Huskies, 36-17.

Powers-Neal suited up again the following week against Purdue. While he only gained ten yards on eight carries, Powers-Neal picked up two more touchdowns, giving him six on the season on only 31 total carries.

But as quickly as the fullback returned to action against Washington and Purdue, he was once missing in Notre Dame’s biggest game of the season – arguably of the decade – against Southern California Oct. 15.

The two-touchdown game against Purdue may prove to be the senior’s last in a Notre Dame uniform. After the USC game, Powers-Neal was similarly missing each of the next three contests against Brigham Young, Tennessee and Navy.

Now, having yet to take the field at Notre Dame Stadium during his senior year – Powers-Neal has played all four of his games this season on the road – Powers-Neal may never get that chance.

Only Weis has the answer.