Iowa's new fullbacks ready to get down and gritty
IOWA CITY, Ia. — No football player arrives at Iowa intending to play fullback. They just get slotted in to that position based on their size and behavior.
If you look like a bowling ball, and perform the basic function of a bowling ball, you’re next in line.
“We’re not in it for the glory, but we’re in it to make sure that this team is the best it can be,” Hawkeyes junior Drake Kulick said. “And if that means banging heads a little bit while the running backs eat up the yards, then that’s exactly what we’ll do.”
Kulick played wide receiver at Muscatine High School. He even returned kicks and punts. Glamorous stuff.
It’s all in the past now.
Kulick and redshirt freshman Brady Ross are the black-and-blue heirs apparent to Adam Cox and Macon Plewa, the two converted linebackers who helped pave the way for Iowa’s 2,544 rushing yards last season. Cox never carried the ball; Plewa did once — for three yards. You may not have noticed them, but Iowa’s coaches and players did.
So their graduation leaves a sizeable void on a team that still employs an old-school blocking fullback. Kulick and Ross are more than happy to embrace the anonymity that goes with the position.
“I really don’t care if anybody even knows my name or the face behind the helmet as long as we’re winning football games,” Kulick said. “It’s not a sexy position but it’s a position that all my teammates appreciate and that’s really all that matters.”
Kulick arrived at Iowa weighing 203 pounds and hoping to play linebacker, which he also played in high school. He was quickly moved to fullback, and has added 35 pounds to better help him withstand the physical demands of the position.
Ross, who played tailback at Humboldt, also thought linebacker was his future as a Hawkeye, although he admitted: “I came here to play football.”
It was noteworthy during Saturday’s media day that Ross had to be coaxed from the middle of a throng of offensive linemen in order to conduct an interview. These are his people now, said the 240-pounder.
“I definitely consider myself kind of an extension of the offensive line,” said Ross, who, like Kulick, stands 6-foot-1. “I didn’t quite have the genetics to play tackle. You’ve got to dance with who brung you.”
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Kulick actually carried the ball three times last year, accumulating eight yards. He even (gasp!) picked up 22 yards on his lone pass reception.
But Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz knows those opportunities are rare for fullbacks in his system. It takes a rare athlete to accept the role. Ferentz thinks Kulick and Ross will continue the Hawkeye tradition.
“They're not as proficient, just like Macon and Adam weren't as good three years ago as they were last year, but we feel good about the position,” Ferentz said. “Those guys are the unknown stories really. If you want to have a successful year, those are the kind of guys you have to have on your football team at the end of the day.”
Kulick is the front-runner to start at fullback, based on the 13 games of action he saw last season. He said getting live game repetitions gave him confidence once he realized that Iowa’s practice sessions occurred at essentially the same speed he saw on the field.
“I did enjoy having the ball a lot,” Kulick said of his high school days. “It was an adjustment. But I was used to playing linebacker as well, so I know the physical part of the game.”
Ross said he learned his new position by watching Cox and Plewa last year, calling them great mentors.
“I’m really done making that excuse that it’s a new thing. There’s a sense of urgency to be better,” Ross said.
“It’s usually our job to bring the intensity. If you’ve got a fullback out there that’s kind of half-hearted running around you’re probably going to get hurt, first of all. Second of all, you’re not going to be very good. We just try to pry stuff open for the running backs.”
Kulick said it’s not a coincidence that all of Iowa’s recent fullbacks were linebackers first.
“I guess they just want to find guys that are kind of gritty and aren’t afraid to get down and dirty,” he said. “I guess that’ s just how they mold the fullback position.”
He spoke as somebody proud to be in that mold. Even if Hawkeye fans never learn his name.