Jeff Kolpack, Published December 09 2010
Fullbacks do all but carry the ballTo get an accurate job description for a fullback in North Dakota State’s offense, there is no need to check the Bison website. Just take a look at Lee Vandal’s face this week.
It looked like he was in a mixed martial arts fight last week rather than a Division I Football Championship Subdivision playoff game at Montana State. But that’s the nature of the position: The meek need not bother to apply.
“He’s pretty beat up,” said freshman fullback Andrew Grothmann. “You can get that out there on the field scrapping.”
Scrapping. Battling. Blocking. The position is all those terms. In fact, it’s everything except carrying the ball.
The last time an NDSU fullback had a rushing attempt was last year when Garrett Bruhn had two carries for 12 yards. That came against Western Illinois on Oct. 31 –– appropriately Halloween – and that represented the season totals for the position.
“We basically feel like we’re an extension of the offensive line,” Vandal said. “No fullback cares about touching the ball.”
That was something Grothmann had to adapt to this year. At Hillsboro High School, he had his hands on the football all the time leading the Burros to a North Dakota 9-man state championship as a running back.
He rushed for 1,496 yards and 28 touchdowns his senior year averaging a gaudy 12.2 yards per carry. He may not reach 12.2 yards his entire career at NDSU – and that’s just fine, he says.
“It’s rewarding to see the running backs get out in space and score,” Grothmann said. “You learn to love blocking. Our job is to get people covered up and displaced and create some holes for the backs.”
The only time in the West Coast offense the fullbacks do see the ball is an occasional pass in the flat. Vandal has six receptions for 61 yards and Grothmann three for 57.
Bruhn has gone between fullback and tight end for seven receptions and count senior Drew Hushka as a blocking-only fullback.
Grothmann had a couple of key blocks last week in helping spring running back D.J. McNorton for his school playoff record 207 yards. With cold temperatures and snow everywhere but on the playing surface, the brute-looking Grothmann and Vandal looked right at home.
Similar weather is expected Saturday when the Bison travel to Eastern Washington for a FCS playoff quarterfinal game. Considering the ineffectiveness of the Bison passing attack, every blocking opportunity could become that much more crucial.
It also doesn’t hurt that Grothmann and Vandal, from Rolla, N.D., grew up playing late into the fall in cold weather.
“That’s playoff football,” Grothmann said. “It’s just part of football. I’m used to it and it’s not going to play a part in anything.”
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