Fall Camp

Fullbacks reemerge with Hauck’s return

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How do you build a position group up from nothing?

Under Bob Stitt, the Montana Grizzlies didn’t use a fullback, so when new head coach Bobby Hauck wanted to add them back into the offense, there weren’t any on the roster.

Hauck’s solution was to take a couple linebackers with the requisite physicality, add a coach who played the position for four years in the NFL, and see what happened.

So far, it’s worked. The Griz have three fullbacks in fall camp — former linebackers Trase Le Texier and Vika Fa’atuiese, and true freshman Levi Janacaro.

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Montana sophomore fullback Trase Le Texier during a practice on August 10/ by Jason Bacaj

“Most of these guys played offense in high school, or they played both ways,” Hauck said. “So it’s not like it’s unfamiliar territory, totally. I don’t know how much we’re going to use that position. Probably it’s dependent upon how we develop there, so we will see.”

The fullback position has experienced a decline in usage in recent years at all levels of the game, thanks to the rise of the spread offense, leaving less room for the hard-nosed, smash-mouth running game that the position symbolizes.

Pro Football Focus graded just 18 qualifiers at fullback in the 2017 NFL season, which means just over half of the teams in league used one. Just three attended the 2018 NFL combine.

But they still have utility in certain situations, and having the option should improve Montana’s short-yardage running game this fall.

Le Texier, a redshirt sophomore from Boulder, Montana, was the guinea pig for Montana, switching from linebacker to fullback before spring ball started.

As a one-man position group, he spent time switching between the running back and tight end position meetings.

“Just like when I first got here, when I learned about being a linebacker, that’s how I learned about being a fullback,” Le Texier said. “It’s basically just like starting over, just learning a new position, pretty much.”

A stocky 6-foot-2, 236 pounds, Le Texier fits the profile of a classic run-blocking fullback, able to bulldoze lanes for the running back.

He wasn’t alone for long, as Fa’atuiese switched from linebacker after the first few days of spring practice.

Unlike Le Texier, who missed last year as a redshirt freshman after suffering a season-ending knee injury, Fa’atuiese had seen playing time at linebacker, playing in 10 games in both his redshirt freshman and sophomore years.

Still, he made the switch without complaint.

Montana junior fullback Vika Fa’atuiese/ by Jason Bacaj

“I was up for anything, any way I can help the team, you know, that’s what I’m going to do,” Fa’atuiese said. “So, if they needed me to play kicker, I would. I can’t kick, but, you know, I would.”

Listed at 6-foot-3, 230 pounds, Fa’atuiese is a little lankier than Le Texier. He showed good ball skills in making a couple of interceptions in spring practice before changing positions. That might make him more of a modern fullback, able to contribute in the receiving game as well.

It wasn’t an accident that both players to make the switch came from the linebacker position.

At its simplest, the job for both positions is pretty similar — head downhill and hit something.

“At the end of the day, you’ve got to be physical at the point of attack,” Montana running backs coach Justin Green said. “You have to do that at linebacker, you have to do that at fullback. … They have to go hit people. At the end of the day, sometimes it doesn’t even matter who they hit, as long as they’re hitting someone.”

Green knows a fair amount about playing fullback.

He rushed for 1,784 yards in just two years at Montana, 11th in school history, and went on to play fullback in the NFL for four years, three with the Baltimore Ravens and one with the Arizona Cardinals.

The former NFL 5th round draft pick’s experience has helped Le Texier and Fa’atuiese adjust.

“He helped me a lot,” Le Texier said. “He explained what the position means to the team, and he just did a really good job introducing me to the offense and taking me one step at a time, helping me make sure I learned things in meetings. [He was] always testing me and quizzing me.”

The small position group added another member in the fall with Janacaro, a true freshman who earned Western AA Offensive MVP honors as the quarterback at Missoula’s Big Sky High School.

Montana true freshman fullback Levi Janacaro/ by Jason Bacaj

Although he’s still likely to redshirt this year, the 6-foot, 220-pound Janacaro has had a good start to fall practice. Green wouldn’t acknowledge the rookie by name in a post-practice interview, but did admit that he might already be gaining a nickname.

“He’s playing really, really well, and has accepted his role and done a really good job,” Green said. “[He’s local], from Big Sky, and he’s putting the hammer…he is the hammer. That might be his new nickname.”

It’s been a quick learning curve for a position group that didn’t exist six months ago, but the Montana fullbacks have embraced every bit of it, and are ready to bring the toughness back to the Montana running game.

“The aggressiveness is the same, but it’s just a little different, because instead of being in a defensive mindset and trying to adapt to what the offense is doing, I’m adapting to the defense now and how they move around, who I have to block and stuff like that,” Fa’atuiese said. “It’s weird, but it’s football. Schemes are schemes, all you gotta do is just adjust.”

Andrew Houghton is a freelance journalist in Missoula providing Griz football content this season. Photos by Jason Bacaj. All Rights Reserved.

About Andrew Houghton

Andrew Houghton grew up in Washington, DC. He graduated from the University of Montana journalism school in December 2015 and spent time working on the sports desk at the Daily Tribune News in Cartersville, Georgia, before moving back to Missoula and becoming a part of Skyline Sports in early 2018.

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