One starred at halfback in high school. The other takes half of his practice snaps at guard on the offensive line.
Meet Bradie Ewing and Ryan Groy, the 2010 fullback duo for the Wisconsin football team.
Ewing, a native of Richland Center weighs in at 234 lbs. — or to put it another way, 21 lbs. less than running back John Clay’s listed weight — ran for over 3,000 yards in high school, scored 41 touchdowns and was named First-Team All-State his senior year. Now he smashes headlong into linebackers on a daily basis, buried not in just short-yardage piles but obscurity.
Groy tips the scales at 307 lbs, was named the Wisconsin State Journal Player of the Year as an offensive lineman in his final high school season and has to bring two jerseys to game days — No. 79 in case he gets in at guard and No. 47 for his fullback duties.
Their respective stories couldn’t be more different, save one defining similar characteristic: They both just wanted to get on the field.
“A week before the first game, they put me in the formation [at fullback],” Groy said. “I didn’t know if I was doing scout, or what I was doing. And then we started running plays, and I was like ‘Am I a fullback? Yeah. Well, OK.’”
“It got me on the field, so I wasn’t complaining.
The death of the fullback position has been a long time coming. Gone are the glory days of Jim Taylor and 1,000 yard rushing seasons.
Between spread offenses, shotgun formations and the proliferation of single back schemes, true fullbacks have little place in the college game, and more importantly, almost no place in the heart of an elite high school athlete. You cannot recruit what doesn’t exist.
But the Badgers, with their old-school power running game, still have a need for a fullback. So they go looking in-house.
Last season it was senior tight end Mickey Turner taking most of the snaps in front of the running back, with tight ends Garrett Graham and Lance Kendricks sharing the load as well. This season, Ewing and Groy man the role.
Neither played a down of fullback in high school, but it hardly matters now. They are on the field in front of 80,000 weekly. The fact that most fans couldn’t pick them out of a lineup is naught but an amusing anecdote.
“It is just awesome to help the team win,” Ewing said.
Against Austin Peay last Saturday, Ewing scored the first touchdown of the game on an eight-yard plunge up the middle on a play the Badgers call “belly.” Ewing added another score later on a three-yard swing reception.
It was a short return to his days in high school as the featured playmaker before settling back into his role of leading blocker for Wisconsin’s current playmakers.
“Anytime when you are a fullback, going from being a running back to a blocking fullback, it is cool to get the ball back in your hands,” Ewing said.
The transition from halfback to fullback is probably more difficult mentally then physically. Glory seekers need not apply. Ewing often rehashes a phrase somewhere along the lines of “anything to help the team win” in his answers — a response he must believe to enjoy his job at fullback.
“Without a doubt,” running back coach John Settle responded when asked if transitioning from halfback to fullback was more difficult mentally then physically. “But guys here know it is a team sport and they understand that they have a job to do. He approaches it with the right mindset.
“The thing I am most pleased with is how much his blocking has improved drastically. I think he feels good about where he is. He is playing with a confidence now you like to see as a coach.”
For Groy the short transition has been the other way around, more difficult learning the ins-and-outs of fullback then adjusting to a new role.
Still taking half his practice snaps at guard and half at fullback, Groy says he believes his play has been up and down as the lead blocker. On one play he might be out in front, cutting a linebacker against Arizona State to lead to John Clay’s rushing touchdown, but against San Jose State he was partially responsible for a fumble after bumping into quarterback Scott Tolzien.
“I didn’t even know going into fullback that my steps were important,” Groy said with a laugh. “I just stepped towards the play and hit. I guess I learned the hard way.”
Besides giving Wisconsin a mix of personnel for their opponents to study — they super creatively call the package “Big” when Groy comes in — the fullback duo keep each other rested.
Settle believes the roles on the team for Ewing and Groy have an uplifting effect on the rest of the roster as well. Their hard work in practice has paid off with playing time.
“I think the players feed off of that,” Settle said. “I think they like to see guys on the field who otherwise might not get a chance to play.”
Or maybe this is all overblown and Groy and Ewing just like hitting people.
“He is a big dude, I’m not that bad. We both like getting in there and smacking skulls with some people,” Ewing said.