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Notre Dame Football: It’s Time... Bring Back The Fullback

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Notre Dame should get back to recruiting fullbacks.

Purdue v Notre Dame Photo by Jeff Gross/Getty Images

This is not another #RTDB article from a fan of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish. It’s important to understand that first sentence before continuing the rest of this post. I, like many of you out there, just want an offense that works. I won’t get nitpicky about run to pass ratios, or formations, or even 5 wide on 4th and goal from the 1 (although I reserve the right to blow up entire cities when that happens). No... I just want an offense that is efficient, and fun to watch.

The fullback position isn’t dead, it has merely changed its profile over the last couple of decades. Even now, after eight years of Brian Kelly’s offense, Irish offensive coordinator Chip Long has started to reintroduce fullback concepts to the Notre Dame playbook. Mostly, it’s been with tight ends working as an H-Back (hello Brock Wright). Still, there have been formations that have had a STRAIGHT UP THROWBACK FULLBACK.

There’s a need for a fullback, but is there a place for a fullback on the roster? This offseason, for example, Notre Dame is sitting at 89 scholarships for 2018 - 4 over the limit. If a commitment was ever made to having a fulltime fullback on the roster, there would need to be two of them at all times. Is that even possible? Would Brian Kelly tweak his roster management to accomodate such a position?

Maybe.

WHY WOULD WE WANT A FULLBACK?

Many believe that using a tight end as a fullback in situational use is all the offense really needs. That’s a fair and reasonable point when discussing the use of one within a spread / RPO / tempo offense. To that end, I have a simple response and it’s simply a player’s name... Owen Schmitt.

Y’all remember West Virginia’s wacko fullback, Owen Scmitt? The West Virginia Mountaineers had a potent offense that was led by quarterback Pat White and running back Steve Slaton. It was on the forefront of the spread movement, but rather than rely on a finesse game, they made a commitment to running the ball - and Schmitt was used as both a lead blocker and as an incredibly powerful runner.

I know what you’re thinking... why am I using Schmitt as an example of a badass fullback when Notre Dame has a strong history at the position. Anthony Johnson, Rodney Culver, Jerome Bettis, Ray Zellars, Marc Edwards, and Rashon Powers-Neil are just some of the names we can list of good to great fullbacks at Notre Dame over the past 30 years. But Schmitt’s success as a fullback in a spread offense is what we should look to as what could be possible in South Bend.

Besides all of that, a bruising fullback brings other qualities to the team that are sometimes a little understated:

  • Toughness
  • Attitude
  • “Utility knife”
  • Allows for a more diverse offense

In short, a fullback can bring a defensive physicality to an offense and can be used in a variety of different ways. Count him in as one of your more hardcore special teams players as well.

SO, WHERE ARE THEY AT?

Now that we have the sales pitch out of the way - how do we ship one to the house? Obviously we have to go sell it to the fullbacks in the country. The thing about fullbacks though, is that they are dwindling in numbers. Also... sometimes a recruit really doesn’t know that he is a college fullback recruit (sometimes the services don’t know either).

The last few recruiting cycles have looked like this:

2015

WHOA... a couple of 4 stars in there. The Stanford Cardinal grabbed TWO.

2016

Another good number, and something to take notice... fullbacks are willing to travel to perform their services.

2017

I’m already intrigued to see Navy’s freshman fullback in action next season - and a bit worried. West Virginia looks to be back in the game too.

2018

Look at that... Stanford gets another one. The Miami-Florida Hurricanes get in the mix as well with a real big one. Remind me - who beat the Irish in 2017?

So yeah... there are fullbacks out there and they a looking for a home. There are also linebackers and overgrown safeties that could develop into the position as well. Honestly... find a 6’2” 240 pound freight train with a brawler’s mindset, and you have something to work with.

THE FUTURE

As much as I just went on and on about the fullback position, it very well may be that Notre Dame is content at recruiting tight ends (which they are very good at) and using them as a mixer in a fullback / h-back role. That’s certainly okay, and could still be a very large success, but there’s nothing like watching a fullback - a true beast of a player just take over a game with physicality and psychology.

As much as people think Brian Kelly is still the “get used to it” guy, he has allowed Notre Dame to change him, and he has evolved as a coach in that respect. Could he really dive into that type of rabbit hole?

I’ll pause for laughter.