DAVIS, Calif. — Dalton Turay is one of an endangered species.
As college football’s offensive evolution kicks into overdrive, the days of I-formations and isolation running attacks are becoming more rare each year. But the UC Davis senior has carved out a niche as one of the best fullbacks in the Big Sky Conference.
Although Turay has only carried the ball three times this season and the Davis rushing attack has struggled with star tailback Gabe Manzanares slowed by a foot injury, Turay is leaving his mark in his final season of college football.
“Davis has a fullback who you could make a highlight reel on that would make any old-school football fan smile,” said Portland State head coach Nigel Burton before his team defeated UCD 23-14 last week. “He’s an absolute beast.”
Turay’s Aggies enter Saturday’s matchup with No. 11 Montana State with a 1-4 record. The Aggies are averaging 119 yards per game on the ground. Yet the Bobcats have taken notice of Davis’ smash mouth style as well.
“That’s kind of a vanishing breed in football, but the teams that are trying to do the ball-possession type strategy, the Stanford school of how to play football, you get a big fullback as a lead blocker and get after it,” MSU head coach Rob Ash said. “Davis’ two fullbacks are outstanding blockers, big, strong guys. We are going to have to really play hard and be physical in this game.”
Turay has been buoyed by the emergence of 6-foot, 240-pound redshirt freshman Derek Baljeu. MSU defensive line coach Bo Beck called Baljeu “an absolute pit bull” in his evaluation. UC Davis head coach Ron Gould loves having not one but two battering rams he can line up in the backfield.
“Those guys are tough and they love the physicality,” Gould said. “They are extremely bright guys and we ask those guys to do a lot. We make a lot of adjustments and they never bat an eye. Most of the time, those guys don’t say a word. They are very unassuming, unpretentious. What you see is what you get.”
Senior left tackle Ian Joseph, an NFL prospect that has made 38 straight starts, and senior center Jay Luchetti, anchor UC Davis’ offensive line. But the Bobcats have seen the fullbacks jumping out on tape in their preparation this week.
“Those two fullbacks, they are physical, they are big and they are not in there to run routes,” Moore said. “They are in there to come down and hit somebody. It’s something you have to be mentally prepared for and know what they are going to give you. You have to have a good pad level and be ready to be physical because they are not going to shy away from contact.”
While Baljeu is a rising star, Turay has been a steady leader and contributor since breaking into the lineup in 2012, the Aggies’ first in the Big Sky Conference. He’s earned all-league honors two years in a row. Last season, he helped pave the way for Manzanares’ breakout campaign. The former walk-on from City College of San Francisco rushed for 1,285 yards and 10 touchdowns in earning Big Sky Newcomer of the Year honors.
“I trust Dalton going through any hole,” Manzanares said. “He sacrifices his body for me on every play. He’s the key to my success.”
The 5-foot-10, 225-pound Turay walked on to Davis during the winter following the 2010 season. He was a standout running back and linebacker Amador Valley High in Pleasanton, Calif., and thought he might play safety.
“I did that for a couple of weeks during winter conditioning and they saw I didn’t exactly have lightning speed,” Turay said with a laugh. “They told me to start gaining weight so I could play fullback.”
He had more than a year to acclimate to the position switch. By 2012, he was the starter as the Aggies endured their first Big Sky season in Bob Biggs’ final of 20 seasons at the helm. Turay quickly established a reputation as a tough, hard-nosed player and he began to relish his new role.
“I love pancake blocks,” Turay said with a gratified smile. “Getting another guy on the ground, knowing you did your job, absolutely winning the matchup, seeing the running back cut right off your block is a pretty special feeling.”
As a sophomore, injuries plagued the Aggie backfield. Turay found himself as the starting tailback for a few games. He rushed for 234 yards, averaged 4.3 yards per carry and caught 21 passes for 156 yards. He scored seven rushing touchdowns and caught an eighth TD. Last fall, he only carried the ball three times, but he caught 13 passes for 159 yards and a touchdown.
“It’s just another job on the team,” Turay said. “It doesn’t really matter to me as long as we are doing well as a unit. I’m lucky to have as good of running backs as we do have. We have some skilled guys. We have a great group of backs.”
Throughout the last three seasons, Turay has laid the wood on plenty of defenders. He’s also taken his fair share of licks. He embraces the physicality of his position and has honed a mentality to never back down.
“It comes with the position,” the managerial economics major said. “I think it’s important when you do get your bell rung to go at it even harder the next time so you don’t have the fear in your mind. You have to attack. If you are on the defensive, you are going to get your bell rung even more often if you shy away.”
An injured foot suffered in the spring has slowed Manazanares as the season approaches its midpoint. The UC Davis offense has struggled to find footing as well as the team works in a new starting quarterback for the first time in four years. The one constant has been Turay’s consistent presence in the backfield with a constant initiative to hit the opposition.
“I’ve coached some great ones in the past and Dalton is very, very good,” said Gould, who coached running backs at Cal before taking over at UCD before last season. “He’s very durable. You talk about flexibility and at times, last year he played tailback. He fits in there too. That’s a tribute to him. He conceptualizes plays as opposed to learning the position. He sees the big picture. He’s one of our smartest, most driven players. I’m glad he’s an Aggie.”
Photos by Wayne Tilcock (AggiePhoto.com), UC Davis athletics.