For all the hopes from Ohio State football fans about the team opening up the offense in 2009, there’s a new development in Buckeye camp compared to past years that shows that I-formation football might not be disappearing.
For the first time in a while, the Buckeye offensive coaches say, there are three true fullbacks batting for playing time at a position that traditionally has been one of the most important at OSU.
The three youngsters – redshirt freshman James Georgiades and true frosh Adam Homan and Zach Boren – bring a level of depth to the position that has not been seen in recent seasons.
“We’ve not had three guys competing at the fullback position since we’ve been here like we have now, so that’s another interesting aspect,” offensive coordinator Jim Bollman said. “It’s nice to have guys at their position their age learning it. They’re great players and they’re big guys.”
For the past few campaigns, it seemed at times like the Buckeyes were trying to fit a few square pegs into a round hole at the spot.
In 2007, Dionte Johnson was a senior and performed admirably while blocking for Chris Wells, but he was backed up by two fifth-year seniors and former walk-ons who had moved from other positions in Trever Robinson and Tyler Whaley.
A season ago, Ohio State was without a true battering ram in the middle after the heir apparent to the position, Aram Olson, saw his career end because of injury. OSU was left with converted linebacker/tight end Brandon Smith and walk-on Ryan Lukens, who had been a linebacker for his entire career, at the spot, both of whom were serviceable but not dominating.
This year, the depth at the position has the Buckeye coaching staff excited even as they look at ways to gear the offense around dual-threat quarterback Terrelle Pryor. Homan has excelled at the position from day one after enrolling early from Coldwater High School, while Georgiades, a walk-on from North Canton Hoover, impressed last season even while redshirting.
Boren, a hard-nosed former tailback and linebacker at Pickerington Central, has completed the trio by adapting to the position after starting his OSU career in the winter as a linebacker.
“They’re three guys that are really physical – tough, old-school guys – and that’s what you’re looking for in a fullback,” running backs coach Doc Tressel said. “They’re not here with big deer-in-the-headlights kind of eyes. They’re all good football players, so it’s exciting.”
Tressel doesn’t seem to be full of empty talk with that last sentence. Both of the true freshmen come from football families and made big impacts on their high school teams – and earned OSU scholarships – based on their hard-nosed style of play in high school.
Suiting up for traditional western Ohio power Coldwater, Homan helped his team to a stunning state title win against Youngstown Cardinal Mooney as a junior and then was chosen first-team All-Ohio and one of the Division IV defensive players of the year as a senior. His brother, Ross, is a linebacker on the OSU squad.
Boren, meanwhile is the son of former Michigan lineman Mike Boren and the brother of OSU lineman Justin. As a senior in high school, Zach was one of Ohio’s 2008 Division I defensive players of the year and also scored 16 touchdowns as a running back.
“He’s actually one of my best friends on the team,” Boren said of Homan. “We’re both very similar people and we come from the same family background. I think that’s why we connect so well. It’s definitely hard competing with him, but he’s a great football player. Fundamentally he’s one of the best guys I’ve seen.”
Then there’s Georgiades, who was twice named a scout team workhorse for the Buckeyes a season ago. As a senior in high school, he was a first-team all-state selection and helped Hoover win a league championship.
Homan has spent most of the time working with the first unit after making his case for a starting job during spring football while both Georgiades and Boren were banged up. So far, observers say, the competition between the three has been as tough as one would expect.
“They’re all working hard,” running back Dan Herron said. “They’re pushing themselves. They’re all hungry. Everyone wants to get that spot.”
Now the question becomes just how often the Buckeyes will utilize the position in 2009, especially after the graduation of battering ram running back Chris Wells. Last year, OSU ran plays out of the I approximately 30 percent of the time; just how high that number will go this year could depend on the development of Homan, Boren and Georgiades.
“That’s probably on the fullbacks a little bit,” Tressel said. “If the fullbacks are really good, you’re going to want to get them on the field, so you’re going to see some I-formation.”