Fullbacks must be multi-faceted for Irish
Justin Schuver | Thursday, September 2, 2004
Fullback is one of those positions that sounds easier than it is. An accomplished fullback has to be multi-talented, able to do much more than just act as a lead blocker.
This is especially true in Notre Dame’s pro-style offense, which involves the fullback in a variety of running and receiving plays. The fullback is seen as a safety-valve receiver, or a way to change up the running game – and proficiency in all aspects of the position is key in the Irish offense this year.
“Everyday, I try to get something to work on,” said Rashon Powers-Neal, who along with Josh Schmidt was one of the two starting fullbacks in the 2003 season. “There’s always some aspect of my game to improve, whether it’s blocking, catching or running with the ball.”
Powers-Neal, who rushed for 15 yards on four rushes last year and made seven receptions for 50 yards, is a former tailback who ranked second on the team in rushing in 2002 behind Ryan Grant. Powers-Neal changed positions last season and could perhaps see spot duty as a reserve tailback this year.
Whatever the position, Powers-Neal is ready to contribute to the offensive side of the ball and has done much preparation in getting ready for the season.
Widely considered to have been one of the standouts of 2004 spring practice, Powers-Neal showed his versatility in the Blue-Gold Game, where he caught a 59-yard touchdown in which he amassed several yards after the initial reception.
“I’m ready to play,” he said. “I’m trying to do it all now. They have me in there in all kinds of situations, but I just want to go out there and make plays.”
Schmidt, a former walk-on who got his start playing interhall football for Zahm Hall, emerged last year as a receiving threat – making 13 receptions for 125 yards – while also showing his skills as an aggressive blocker. He figures to battle Powers-Neal and junior Nate Schiccatano for playing time at fullback this season.
“It’s definitely friendly competition [between Rashon and I],” Schmidt said. “That’s not to say we don’t try hard and get after each other everyday, but we go out there and our mindset is to go out and play hard and let the coaches decide who plays.”
Schmidt, whose Briar Crest High School (Tenn.) team went to the state finals three years in a row, was not recruited by Notre Dame, but elected to attend the school anyway for its academic reputation.
“Honestly, when I came here, I wasn’t planning on playing football,” Schmidt said. “When I walked on I didn’t think I’d make the team, when I made the team I didn’t think I’d ever get to play, so I’m very happy with where I am.
“The coaches here are great. They tell you when you first get here, they don’t care who you are, the best player is going to play. So being a walk-on, it’s encouraging for you, because you know if you go out there and work hard, and if things fall into the right places that they’re going to give you a shot.”
Schmidt maintained his scholarly aptitude even after joining the team in 2001, and was awarded the Notre Dame Club of St. Joseph Valley Knute Rockne Student-Athlete Award in 2003.
For this season, though, Schmidt would like to focus more on brawn than brains.
“I just want to improve as a blocker, because I know that’s something I need to improve on coming out of last year,” he said. “I want to improve as a lead blocker and also get a little bit better at catching the ball out of the backfield.”
u D.J. Fitzpatrick, who kicked two 50-yard-plus field goals in Friday’s scrimmage, is expected to be the starting kicker and punter when Notre Dame kicks off its season against BYU Saturday.
“We are still analyzing our position and looking at each of the candidates day-to-day, but I believe that right now our punter in this ballgame would probably be D.J. Fitzpatrick,” Willingham said.
Fitzpatrick, who started eight games in 2003 as the kicker and punter, was expected to compete for the starting position with sophomore Geoffrey Price.
u Notre Dame is tentatively looking at a plan that might increase the number of home games from six to seven, beginning in 2009.
Teams such as Nebraska and Ohio State have recently scheduled as many as eight home games in a season, while Notre Dame has maintained its policy of playing a roughly equivalent number of home and away games, but that policy might be in the process of changing.
“I would think it’s a great advantage to have another home game,” Willingham said Tuesday.
u It was still undecided as to whether linebacker Brandon Hoyte, who injured his arm in a recent practice, would start the BYU game as of Willingham’s conference Tuesday.
Corey Mays is expected to replace Hoyte if he is unable to perform Saturday.
“Corey has been a real delight in our program,” Willingham said. “He’s willingly [improved his knowledge of the defensive scheme] and put himself in position, where now if you looked at our linebacking corps, we would have a rotation of four and not just three starters.”