MADISON — On most teams, fullbacks are at best, lead blockers – gritty players who do the dirty work. As the game moves more towards spread offenses and air raids, the fullback position is dying.
Maybe Wisconsin is a mythical land or maybe it is merely the last place in which the game of old is holding on to its last grasp. Either way, at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, the fullback position is alive and well.
Derek Watt, who played fullback for Wisconsin from 2012-14, is now a starting fullback in the NFL for the Los Angles Chargers. Watt was the prototypical Wisconsin fullback – consistent and versatile, always ready to push forward in the rush attack and ready to take a dump-off pass an extra ten yards.
This year, like last season, the position is led by senior Austin Ramesh and junior Alec Ingold. Both were pretty versatile; Ingold scoring two touchdowns receiving and two rushing and Ramesh being a steady runner averaging 5.27 yards a carry.
“Continuing to improve on our play and improving our strengths. Always trying to improve our weaknesses,” starter Ramesh said on what the fullbacks look to improve on most. “But I think for Alec and I, we’ve played quite a bit of football now, I think we’re focused on expanding our role, trying to get a little more versatile. Just always being available to play for whatever position we’re in.”
Continuing to build off of the versatility from last season into this season, Ramesh and Ingold can try to pick up in other areas of the offense. Expanding their playbook, they could pick up third down running back duties, especially with power running back Taiwan Deal consistently out with injury.
Blocking wise, fullbacks need to be consistent to play in the first place, so expanding blocking schemes to add depth to the tight end position can also be a valuable asset.
“I feel like just expanding the playbook for the fullbacks has been big,” Ingold added. “You know spring ball we worked a lot of running back stuff and pass protection. Trying to be that third down running back and now transitioning to the tight end role. Just getting a lot of depth out of everyone. So we have our set of plays but then we can help in a lot of different places.”
Playing at Wisconsin adds to glory of the fullback tradition. Normally, in the average football offense, the fullback is a lost name in a sea of players. But fans of the Badgers either love to be different or love seeing players who do things that don’t show up in stat sheets.
Fullbacks tend to be household names (look to Derek Watt and former Green Bay Packers fullback John Kuhn for evidence) in Wisconsin. Just as fans reward fullbacks with loud cheers, the coaches also reward the hard work and hard fought tradition of consistency from the fullbacks with more opportunities.
“Yeah, it definitely is,” Ingold said about playing for a school known for its fullbacks. “You get your rewards for that and you get rewarded for your good work and I feel like that is kind of just a testament to the university. If you got a hard working kid, you know, you’re going to get fed a little bit and you’ll get the ball a little more.”
That consistency is the most important thing though. The fullbacks at Wisconsin are the epitome of hard working, nose to the grind stone type of players.
“It’s huge because we don’t get a lot of reps when it comes game time so every single play is super important for us,” Ingold said. “It’s huge when you go in there, you know you’ve been sitting for ten or so plays, so that one play you’re in there you do the job right or otherwise you won’t see the field for another 20 plays. You definitely have to make the most out of every opportunity.”
Without that consistency, playing time would be few and far between. With out that consistency, just as other football teams have done so, the fullback position might be neglected completely.
But with Ramesh and Ingold at the helm of the fullback position, Wisconsin fans need not worry about their folk heroes being phased out or replaced. In fact, Wisconsin fans should look to the fullback position this season and see players who are having huge impacts on the field come gameday.