20 on '20: Wisconsin's Fullbacks
As Wisconsin football student-athletes started "voluntary athletics activities" on June 15 -- AllBadgers.com wanted to begin a series dedicated to the program entering the 2020 season.
Ed. note: The Big Ten announced in July that the conference's fall sports would compete within its own league. Any updates to UW's football schedule are still unknown as of Aug. 3.
I had some questions as to the parameters, however. Do we highlight breakout or "most important" players according to a specific set of standards?
Perhaps we look at the biggest concerns with a team returning many starters and contributors but has specific questions needing to be answered at key positions?
In that light, AllBadgers.com presents its "20 on '20" series where we dissect (you guessed it) 20 topics pertaining to the football program. For those needing to catch up, here is the series so far:AllBadgers.com's 20 in '20 Series:
- No. 1: Wisconsin's Deepest Position Groups
- No. 2: Wisconsin's Special Teams
- No. 3: Replacing Two Key Wisconsin Linebackers
- No. 4: 20 on '20: Wisconsin's Recruiting 'Upswing' in Recent Years
- No. 5: Tailgating Before, Attending Wisconsin Games at Camp Randall Stadium
- No. 6: Wisconsin's Running Back Room Post-Jonathan Taylor Era
- No. 7: Wisconsin's Wide Receivers and Replacing Three Contributors
- No. 8: Wisconsin's Deep Cornerback Room and a South Florida Connection
- No. 9: Jake Ferguson and What 2020 Could Bring
- No. 10: Wisconsin's Walk-On Tradition and Potential Contributors Next Season
- No. 11: David Moorman Discussing Wisconsin's Offensive Linemen
- No. 12: David Pfaff on Wisconsin's Defensive Line
No. 13: Wisconsin's Depth at Fullback
In an offense that has questions as to whom will step up to replace production at running back, wide receiver and the offensive line, some position groups on that side of the ball are set to return all of its contributors from a season prior.
One would be quarterbacks (more about them before the end of this series). Another would be the fullbacks.
(You could also note the tight ends and Jake Ferguson making up all of the receptions from that position group from 2019, but Cormac Sampson moved back to the offensive line and he played a lot of snaps last year).
OK, back to fullbacks. Mason Stokke, John Chenal and Quan Easterling make up a versatile group of players within the offense.
Yes, Wisconsin fullbacks are versatile. They can be lead blockers and pancake defenders in the run game. See: Wisconsin gained 3,263 rushing yards on 5.3 yards per attempt in 2019.
They can carry the rock in short-yardage and goal-line situations (hello, fullback dive). When needed, they can catch the ball out of the backfield.
Stokke and Chenal are the veterans of the group, as the former will be a redshirt senior and the latter will play as a junior. Both were announced by Wisconsin on 2016 and 2018 National Signing Day as linebackers prior to their switch to the offensive side of the ball. Stokke transitioned to fullback before the 2018 season, and Chenal was listed on that year's roster at the position as well.
Last year, they took over for Alec Ingold, who earned his NFL roster spot with the Oakland (now Las Vegas) Raiders. Looking at the stats sheet, Stokke ran the ball 15 times for 51 yards with two touchdowns; Chenal gained 66 yards on 18 attempts with a rushing score of his own.
The duo also combined for nine receptions on the season.
Another year should help continue their development and comfortability in Paul Chryst's scheme.
Behind them, Easterling could emerge as the next in line for this touted position. He did so last season at Illinois with Stokke not participating in Champaign, as the rising redshirt freshman from Ohio was utilized out of 32 (three running backs, two tight ends) personnel against the Illini.
Wisconsin listed Easterling at 6'3 and 230 pounds on its 2020 spring roster in March, though those 15 practices never commenced due to the COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent suspension of organized team activities by the Big Ten. Those sessions likely would have helped the 2019 signee -- as it would have many of the younger players -- to receive reps and gain more experience.
With other key positions needing to address departures, the trio of multi-faceted bruisers could play a significant role in keeping Wisconsin's offense churning this season (if it is in fact played). Even after Stokke exhausts his eligibility, the position will still be in good hands.
Like its running backs, offensive line and now-emerging linebackers, the fullback tradition at Wisconsin is strong.