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AZTECS UPDATE : Hughley’s Absence Won’t Make SDSU Alter Preparations

Word of the dismissal of running back Chris Hughley from the Tulsa team reached San Diego State on Saturday morning, but SDSU Coach Al Luginbill figures the Golden Hurricane has more talent at the position than Hughley alone.

“Anybody in a one-back set is going to have two good backs,” Luginbill said.

Hughley, the nation’s fifth-leading rusher (132.6 yards per game), was dismissed from the team Friday because he didn’t meet academic requirements set by Coach David Rader.

His likely replacement will be junior Ron Jackson, who opened the season as a starter and gained 674 yards in 1991. He had 320 in Tulsa’s first two games.

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“I don’t know what their feelings are, but the other kid is an excellent running back,” Luginbill said. “They have different styles. (Hughley) is more of a slasher, an Eric Dickerson-type only not with his type of speed. The other kid is a juker.

“They’re not going to change anything. What may affect us now is who becomes the second guy.”

That could be any number of players. Hughley had 267 rushing attempts this season; Jackson 142. Nobody else had more than nine.

Redshirt freshman cornerback Sam Williford and redshirt freshman receiver Jeff Speech were left behind for disciplinary reasons Saturday when the Aztecs went to Irvine to begin bowl preparations. Luginbill made it clear, though, that they have not been dismissed from the team. Neither was expected to play in the Freedom Bowl.

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Aside from the publicity and recruiting benefits, San Diego State’s Freedom Bowl appearance is giving its young players extra practice time.

SDSU coaches are holding special 30-minute practice sessions for redshirts and newcomers after the regular team’s 1 1/2-hour practice sessions.

“It’s like having another spring ball,” SDSU Coach Al Luginbill said. “It’s going to put us much further ahead in the spring.”

The coaches are drilling the players who sat out this season at full speed “in the San Diego State philosophy,” Luginbill said. The Aztecs are holding these special practices through next Saturday, two days before the Freedom Bowl.

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“I’ve said all along, give us five or six years of doing this and now you’ll see a really experienced team taking the field,” Luginbill said. “Even though (the redshirts) won’t play in the game, they are making San Diego State better for the future.”

And the redshirts seem to enjoy it. Sophomore defensive back John McCartney said his fellow defensive players “love it” because they can finally hit.

During the season, the redshirt defensive players imitate SDSU’s opposition each week against the Aztec first-team offense. To avoid injuries, they aren’t allowed to tackle the offensive unit. Now, against the redshirt offensive players . . .

“It’s for bragging rights,” McCartney said. “We don’t think they can overpower us like they say they can.”

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But the offense has the edge, because that unit is allowed to hit during the season. The defense is hitting for the first time since fall camp.

“But we’re catching up,” McCartney said.

One thing about playing in a bowl game: It can really mess up your holiday plans. Although SDSU will return to San Diego on Christmas Eve, players who live far from the city obviously will not be able to make it home for Christmas because the Aztecs return to their team hotel in Irvine early on the morning of Dec. 26.

And then there is New Year’s . . .

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Quarterback David Lowery went to Lake Tahoe with friends last New Year’s Eve but, this year, even though the Freedom Bowl is Dec. 30, the Aztecs are scheduled to stay overnight in Irvine that night and then have a team meal Dec. 31 before departing for home.

A few of Lowery’s friends are attempting to plan another trip to Lake Tahoe and are hoping to get away early Dec. 31. So Luginbill can probably expect a visit from a quarterback wondering if the team meal that day is mandatory.

All of SDSU’s injuries have healed in the weeks since the season finale at Miami Nov. 30. The two worst were defensive back Gary Taylor’s strained groin and receiver Patrick Rowe’s sprained ankle.

“It’s feeling real good,” Taylor said. “I’ve been getting therapy every day, and since we’ve had that rest. . . . During the season, we weren’t able to rest.”

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Rowe, meanwhile, said his left ankle is feeling “100%.”


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