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Spartan Fullbacks Are Worth Their Weight in Gold!

For Michigan State, the running back situation may be uncomfortably unsettled, but the rest of the running game certainly has plenty of muscle. At fullback, MSU brings back a bumper crop of helmet smashing grunts who enjoy little besides ripping open holes for their quicker-footed brethren.


There is strength in numbers, sure, but experience is priceless on the football field. The Spartans will bring both to the table this fall with at least five players actively competing for playing time.


Andrew Hawken leads the pack. The 6-foot-2, 238-pound fifth-year senior will be a rock this Spartan coaching staff relies on as a batch of new offense players search for rhythm early in the season. The Wyoming, Mich. native will be a stalwart in the running game, and after suffering through last season, when he was banged up most of the year, he'll bring not only an ability to make crucial blocks, but should also be a reliable safety valve for a newly minted Spartan quarterback.


Running backs coach Dan Enos describes Hawken as a highly intelligent football player, and that's an important attribute to have in a position that often requires split second decisions. While Hawken will never carry the ball even 10 times in a game, his impact on the field will be felt regardless of the number of yards he ends up with in the stat sheet. A fullback's job isn't to draw headlines; it's to make sure the guy behind him has a clear path to victory. And after steadily improving each year, Hawken is primed to remain a vital part of the MSU offense.

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Backing up Hawken is the versatile Josh Rouse. A linebacker as late as spring last year, the converted athlete has fit right in the offensive backfield. Steady improvement gave him an opportunity to find the field as a contributor last fall, and after losing Jeff McPherson, Rouse will be counted on to fill a larger role. Plus, like Hawken, Rouse brings important senior leadership to an otherwise fairly inexperienced backfield.


The trend of linebackers moving into a fullback roll is apparently popular. Andrew Pendy has made the conversion this spring and brings a hard-nosed demeanor to the position. The walk-on has climbed his way into the competition for playing time and with five years of experience in the Big Ten; he'll bring a deep understanding of the speed the Spartans will face throughout the season. And if there is one thing a fullback must understand, it's the speed of the game. Not only because of the men he is franticly working to knock to the ground — whether it be linebacker, safety or even a svelte defensive end — but because if he doesn’t get out of the way fast enough, he's going to have his own man's cleats making tracks over his back.


After the three upperclassmen, a pair of walk-ons will add depth to the position. Nick Bendzuck just looks like a fullback and the Ohio native has proven valuable as a scout team player over the past couple seasons. With great hands and an ability to run after the catch, Bendzuck brings an important dynamic to the depth chart. Finally, Adam Setterbro, the youngest of the group, rounds out the position with a strong work ethic that goes unappreciated by most everyone outside of the coaching staff.


At fullback, where getting dinged up is a way of life and playing through pain is an unavoidable job requirement, having a strong rotation in important. Keeping them fresh is important throughout the game, to be sure, but by spreading the workload around, coaches look to keep their fullbacks productive for an entire season. While fullbacks may go unnoticed in the media in a season like last year, when Javon Ringer racked up big game after big game, bet money that the players and coaching staff noticed every crack of the helmet, every block to kick out a defender and every check-down to a loose defender the squad made. The headlines might not trumpet their worth, but the fullbacks in a pro system like MSU's are worth their weight in gold.