The Return of the Scholarship Fullback at Nebraska

Big Red NetworkSenior Writer IMay 19, 2008

It didn’t take long.

Dane Todd, an all-conference fullback, suited up for the Huskers in the Cotton Bowl on January 1st, 2007. He was the last scholarship fullback to be listed on an NU roster. That’s about to change.

Alonzo Whaley was listed as a linebacker/fullback in the Spring NU media guide, but given the Husker’s needs defensively it’s easy to imagine him playing on that side of the ball (and perhaps even being developed into a defensive end). But even if he’s not a fullback, recent commit C.J. Zimmerer will be.

This clearly signals a shift in philosophy. Bill Callahan never recruited a single fullback on scholarship, preferring to add depth at other positions. Relying exclusively on walk-ons can be a sensible approach that a number of schools have used. Fullbacks are often just part-time players on offense.

Single back and no-back sets are a common sight in college football. And the West Coast offense can motion tight ends in and out of the backfield to be lead blockers on running plays. Still, it also means you go into a game knowing that about half the time you are relying on a walk-on player by design.

We’ve heard Bo Pelini says that he wants to get the best 11 guys on the field. Offering scholarships to your fullback accomplishes that. There’s a cost, though. It weakens your depth elsewhere.

Frank Solich had four fullbacks on scholarship in 2003. The team had also fallen into what I’ve called “O-line hell” as they were forced to play Richie Incognito out of position and Dan Vili Waldrop out of shape.

With four more scholarships to offer, could he have added better tackle prospects? (and allowed Incognito to play a more natural interior line position?) You’d think so. But a fullback is pretty vital to an option offense, so I don’t second-guess Frank there.

But the walk-on by design model can hurt too. Ask Bobby Bowden. For years, his Florida State teams would lose critical games on missed field goals. He also tended to rely exclusively on walk-on kickers. Then he decided to change his ways (as Husker fans are painfully aware) and spend scholarships on kickers. He went on to win two national championships and tally a handful of other national championship game appearances.

So it’s hard to say whether or not it’s the right call to go back to offering scholarships to fullbacks, but you can say it’s absolutely consistent with Bo’s stated philosophy. You can also say that if Whaley or Zimmerer develop into all-conference talents, then their scholarships will be well spent.