By RICK BROWN
IOWA CITY, Iowa — Drake Kulick has no problem playing in anonymity. In fact the junior fullback relishes it.
“The only thing that matters is winning,” Kulick said at the Hawkeyes’ annual football media day Saturday. “I don’t care if anyone knows my name, or the face behind the helmet, as long as we win football games. No, it’s not a sexy position, but it’s a position that my teammates appreciate and that’s all that matters.”
Seniors Macon Plewa and Adam Cox shared duties at fullback last season. Now it’s time to find somebody new.
“They taught me a lot,” Kulick said. “As starters, they didn’t just leave me in the dust and say, “We’re worried about what we’ve got to do and that’s it. They were two good friends, and two good mentors.”
Kulick, who had three carries for 18 yards and caught a pass for 22 yards against Northwestern last season, is in the mix to replace last season’s blockers extraordinaire. Kulick also saw action in 12 games on special teams, a role he’ll continue to play this season.
Sophomore Austin Kelly and redshirt freshman Brady Ross are also competing for playing time, as are junior Steve Manders and freshman Lane Akre.
“Things are going well,” said Ross, a redshirt freshman. “We’re all learning from each other. I couldn’t be more blessed than having those guys, who have welcomed me with open arms.”
Plewa and Cox were converted linebackers. The same can be said for Ross, Kulick, and Manders.
“I guess they want to find guys who are gritty and aren’t afraid to get down and dirty,” Kulick said.
If you want a true appreciation for what Plewa and Cox did, watch a replay of a game last season. They led at the point of attack, crushing countless defenders to open lanes for the running backs.
“Those two guys were extremely good,” Iowa offensive coordinator Greg Davis said. “We didn’t care who was in the game. We trusted them both.”
And now it’s going to be someone new at that spot.
“I’ve been encouraged with Kelly and Kulick, the way they’re playing and the energy they’re bringing,” Davis said. “Ross gives us three tough guys. They’re very competitive. That’s what we need out of our fullback.”
No one appreciates the contributions the fullbacks provided last season more than Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz.
“The way they carried themselves, the way they operated, even though it wasn’t a glamour position and they’re not on the field all the time,” Ferentz said.
Cox and Plewa were two of 21 seniors who guided Iowa to the Big Ten’s West Division championship.
“And they are both strong leaders,” Ferentz said. “The good news is I think we have some guys that are capable, and they are doing a nice job, too. Drake Kulick, Brady Ross, go right down the list. We have some guys that are going to do just fine. They’re not as proficient, just like Macon and Adam weren’t as good three years ago as they were last year. But we feel good about the position. If you want to have a successful year, those are the kinds of guys you have to have on your football team at the end of the day.”
As Iowa’s offensive line coach and run-game coordinator, Brian Ferentz also has a great appreciation for the role of the fullback in Iowa’s offense.
“We lost two of the best who ever played here,” Brian said. “On top of being good football players, it was the kind of guys they were in our locker room. We’re going to miss them as leaders. But I’m encouraged by the young guys.”
Brian mentions Kulick, Kelly, and Ross as three guys who can “pick up that mantle that those guys have left behind.”
Good fullback play is critical to Iowa’s offense, Brian said, because it keeps the offense calling shots.
“The idea to have two guys back there in the backfield every snap appeals to us because it gives us the ability to run the football in either direction,” Brian said. “The defense can’t tell us where to run the football. We can balance the numbers, so you’ll see us in multiple formations with those two backs, the idea being we can’t have the defense dictate to us what we are or aren’t going to do in a football game.”