The Iowa fullback no longer dreads training camp after an off-season spent rehabbing Mark Emmert
IOWA CITY, Ia. — You might re-watch the first play of Iowa’s football game against Nebraska and wince when Drake Kulick winds up with a broken bone.
Kulick focuses on the positive.
“I actually had a fairly good block on that play,” the Hawkeyes fullback said Saturday, nine months removed from snapping his left leg.
The play, an inside-zone handoff to LeShun Daniels Jr., resulted in a five-yard gain. For Kulick, it resulted in a year’s worth of perspective.
“For the past four years coming to camp, I’ve dreaded it. Everybody knows that camp sucks, and we don’t come out here to have a bunch of fun and enjoy our time. We come out here to get better and make sure we have the best football team we can,” Kulick said. “When that injury happened and having the offseason I’ve had, it gave me a broader outlook on camp as a whole because I know that I’m coming here and I have to get back to where I was and get better than where I was.
"So really, I’m just more driven to get back and I’m having a lot more fun out there because I realize that things happen and it can be taken from you quickly.”
Kulick is back atop the depth chart heading into his senior season. Iowa is one of the few schools that actually has a depth chart for fullbacks, a tradition that won’t change under new offensive coordinator Brian Ferentz.
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Ferentz told reporters at the Hawkeyes’ media day that his favorite formation is a fullback, tailback, two tight ends and one wide receiver. He also acknowledged that fans will rarely see that because it’s not the ideal way to gain grounds in the modern game.
Ferentz even joked with his trio of fullbacks recently: “Hey, guys, we’re just trying to find more ways to get you off the field.”
Kulick is backed up by sophomore Brady Ross and junior Austin Kelly.
Ferentz said it takes a special athlete to become a Hawkeye fullback.
“Things weren’t handed to them. Things didn’t come easily. And the way they’ve earned playing time is by banging their head against somebody else as hard as they can, over and over again,” he said. “And never touching the football.”
Kulick carried it once last season, for a one-yard gain at Illinois. The rest of his time was dedicated to blocking, helping pave the way for Daniels and Akrum Wadley to each eclipse 1,000 yards rushing.
It’s what fullbacks take quiet pride in. That and being tougher than anybody else.
Which is why Kulick, a Muscatine native, said he has watched his grisly injury many times.
“It doesn’t bother me. Fluky things happen on the field. Sometimes you get hurt,” Kulick said. “It’s not like I feel a bad omen that if I watch, ‘Oh, no, it’s going to happen again.’”
Kulick said he knew the instant it happened that his leg was broken. As he was carted off the field, he exhorted his teammates: “I didn’t break my leg for nothing! Win the game!”
The Hawkeyes did, 40-10. Kulick was back on the sideline by the time it ended, blocking out his anguish to celebrate a trophy victory.
“I think you have to (have a high tolerance to pain) when you play the fullback position. I don’t think you can really be too shy to pain,” Kulick said, finding one final bright spot in his ordeal.
“Before, I imagined breaking your leg would hurt more than it actually did.”
Fullbacks, they’re a different breed.