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Fullbacks happy to lead the way

For two seasons, Largo's Sean Holte has played fullback, a position in which players usually plod along and are forgotten.

Holte knew he would be lucky to get a few carries and occasionally slip out of the backfield in the passing game. That's what happens when your offense revolves around Brynn Harvey, who broke the county single-season rushing record last year.

Rather than run the ball, Holte ran interference.

He had the job of being Harvey's personal escort.

This year, Harvey has graduated. But Holte's role has not changed. Holte still can deliver a block to lead new tailback Marcel Durham into the hole, or shield quarterback Ryan Eppes from pass rushers.

"I don't mind not getting the ball a lot," Holte said. "I actually like blocking."

Years ago fullbacks were a force, in many cases more of an impact player than the halfback or wideout. It does not happen as much anymore.

For most of today's spread offenses, plodding is out and speed is in, making fullbacks as anonymous as linemen, which is, in effect, what most of them are.

"The old traditional fullback has gone by the wayside," Dunedin coach Mark Everett said. "There's not that many out there. But the ones we have, at least in this county, are pretty good."

But as the weather turns cold and the playoffs are here, the stock of the fullback rises. So we take this opportunity to celebrate the ones in the county, such as Holte. These are the bulkier guys, the mound-like men whose offenses would be a wreck if not for their reckless abandon.

Holte is not the only force at a position often ignored. There is St. Petersburg's Ben Sams, Dunedin's Bryan Morris, Countryside's Terry Johnson, Tarpon Springs' Marcus Nemeth and Indian Rocks Christian's Lou Mason.

Throw in Northeast's Tim Tisdale, whose team did not make the playoffs, and it's no wonder the county has become fullback central this season.

Fullbacks are anonymous, sore, and they better like it that way. After all, they can see stars one play and block stars the next.

"I crave the contact," Holte said. "I like to see deep gashes in my helmet. That lets me know I've been punishing people."

But what is unprecedented about this current crop of fullbacks is the array of skills. The ability to block is but a single line on their resume.

They also can pound the ball inside. And when there is no daylight, they have the vision to find a seam, the ability to step over bodies and the speed to get outside. What's more, they can make people miss, break long runs and catch the ball out of the backfield.

"These guys are all pretty versatile," St. Petersburg coach Joe Fabrizio said.

Fabrizio did not need to give his back special attention. He runs the Wing-T, an offense that gets Sams, his fullback, more involved.

A big back who is merciless and light on his feet, Sams has splattered defenders on a routine basis, powering for more than 800 yards.

Every so often, just to remind defenders that he's more than a Sherman tank, Sams will throw in a hip fake or a stutter step. But for the most part, he flat runs over people.

"At least for us, Ben is a big banger who once he gets going can juice everyone up," Fabrizio said.

For most, the contact is not strictly on offense. Holte is a linebacker, as well as Mason and Morris.

"I like being able to stay on the field for every play," Holte said. "But what I really like is hitting people. That's fun."

Fullbacks happy to lead the way 11/20/08 [Last modified: Friday, November 21, 2008 5:54pm]

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