Skip to main contentSkip to main content
You are the owner of this article.
You have permission to edit this article.
alert top story editor's pick topical

Amie Just: Revival of the fullback at Nebraska could be 'advantageous,' Osborne says

  • Updated
  • 0

Husker sports reporter/columnist

A Funk native and graduate of Lincoln Southeast, Amie Just joined the Journal Star as sports columnist after spending five seasons covering football for the New Orleans Times-Picayune and the Missoulian in Missoula, Montana.

Luke Mullin and Amie Just discuss Nebraska’s aggressive efforts recruiting both the state of Texas, and the transfer portal. Plus, a check-in on both Husker basketball teams.

Nebraska needs a fullback.

To not have one? It’s antithetical to the history of the program and everything Nebraska football stands for.

Toughness. Blue-collar grit. Times bring change, sure. The game evolves, no question. The rise of the spread offense is evidence of that. But we haven’t moved past the need for the fullback. Especially at Nebraska.

Since football’s inception at Nebraska in 1890, the Huskers had always had a fullback — until the dark ages of 2018-22.


There have been at least 151 fullbacks who’ve lettered at the University of Nebraska, according to the Athletic Department’s records. Before the Scott Frost era, the only years in NU history where there wasn’t a designated fullback letterwinner: 1891, 1903, 1913, 1925 and 1941. But there was at least one fullback on each of those rosters.

Under new head coach Matt Rhule and offensive coordinator Marcus Satterfield? The fullback’s back, baby.

And that, my friends, is a beautiful thing — even if we aren’t quite sure how in-game fullback usage will look just yet.

Don’t just take it from me. Take it from four former Nebraska fullbacks and the man who coached several of them.

“I’m pretty stoked about it, really,” said Andy Janovich (2012-15). “Everyone’s phasing them out, whether it’s high school, college, NFL. It’s kind of depressing, really. But it’s an old-school thing.

“You just have to have coaches that have used fullbacks in the past or have been a part of a staff that uses them and appreciates them. And if you’ve never used them before, it’s like, ‘What the hell does that even mean?’ But it’s pretty cool that they’re going to bring it back.”

Of course, Frost getting rid of it in the first place caused a stir then.

It’s a choice that still boggles the mind, especially with how NU struggled in short-yardage situations in recent years, and how Frost’s collegiate success came alongside fullbacks. But, I digress.

“I believe Nebraska, if they want to get back to where we want to get to, we have to be a physical football team, and that means on both sides of the line,” said Joel Makovicka (1994-98). “It starts there. A physical offensive line, be committed to running the football, committed to being physical, having great tight ends and then having lead blockers, such as fullbacks.”

It’s an unsung position, one that oftentimes goes without the grandiose accolades or eye-popping statistics on the box score. With that, fullbacks are “pretty unselfish,” said Brian Schuster (1992-96) said.

That comes with the territory.

The general purpose of the fullback is lead blocking for the running back in specific situations, but they’re in the backfield rather than on the line of scrimmage. That gives them a 5-yard head start, which helps provide them better angles to find the first hole for the running back.

But they also can’t be counted out as an offensive weapon, like with the fullback dive or on screen plays as a receiver.

“You can’t get away from lead blocking and blocking out on the edge and pass protection,” Makovicka said. “A lot of people say it’s a glorified offensive lineman, but we’ve gotta be athletic enough to do it all.”

That complicates things for a defense — especially in the age of 00, 10, 11 and 12 personnel packages. Throwing a curveball with 21, 22 or, phew, even 23 personnel, that’s advantageous to an offense.

“A lot of teams, because they don’t see a lot of 21 personnel with the fullback in there, they don’t work it,” said Tom Rathman, former Husker fullback (1981-85) and retired NFL running backs coach. “And you may have an advantage going into a football game.”

Before we get in too deep, a quick refresher on personnel packages.

With five offensive linemen and a quarterback on the field, that gives teams five spots for playmakers and/or extra blockers. When referring to specific offensive personnel packages, the first number equals the number of running backs on the field, while the second represents the number of tight ends. So, 10 equals one running back with zero tight ends, which means there are spots for four receivers. A 21 personnel grouping has two running backs and one tight end, so there are spots for two receivers.

“The thing that I’ve noticed over time is that so many teams really have one running back, and that makes the defense’s job a little easier,” said Tom Osborne.

So, with the running back (or the I-back, in Nebraska vernacular), the fullback and a dual threat at quarterback — the holy trinity in football known as the triple option — opposing defenses oftentimes were caught flatfooted. Nebraska used the triple option out of the I-formation for decades, and it worked. Three national titles, 23 straight bowl berths from 1980-2003.

The traps, the dives, the multiple options off those aforementioned actions and play-action possibilities “made it pretty complicated for the defense to stop all three,” Osborne said. “It adds a dimension and you’re doing something that not everybody is doing. Any time you can do something and do it well that people are not seeing consistently week after week, I think gives you an edge.

“Now, how Matt will do this, how he’ll employ the fullback, I don’t know. But it’s something he’s traditionally worked with and has a good idea of what he wants to do. So it will be a little different, and that could be advantageous.”

Nebraska’s storied history at fullback predates Osborne’s tenure, with Jerry Brown in the 1950s and Frank Solich and Dick Davis in the 1960s. But they — and all the fullbacks before them — helped set the foundation for all to come.

For Dan Schneiss. Maury Damkroger. Andra Franklin. Roger Craig. Jim Kotera. Mark Moravec. Tim Brungardt. Rathman. Dan Casterline. Ken Kaelin. Bryan Carpenter. Sam Schmidt. Lance Lewis. Tim Johnk. Lance Gray. Cory Schlesinger, Jeff Makovicka. Schuster. Billy Legate. Joel Makovicka. Ben Kingston. Willie Miller. Paul Kastl. Judd Davies. DeAntae Grixby. Steve Kriewald. Dane Todd. Thomas Lawson. Tyler Legate. C.J. Zimmerer. Janovich. Luke McNitt. So many more.

“There was a certain standard that you had to live up to when you were a Nebraska football player,” said Rathman, who still holds the NU fullback record for net yards rushing in a season (881, in 1985). “You knew that going in. That’s how great of an organization it was back in the late ’70s, ’80s, ’90s, they were top-notch.

“The standard was so high that it was one great fullback, then the next great fullback, then the next great fullback. They always had a fullback that was an elite player. I just tried to follow the trend and tried to put my stamp on it.”

Janovich added: “I can’t say I would ever compare myself to those guys, but they are some tough sons of guns. Very tough.”

A new era begins now.

What that looks like, as of right now, who’s to say. But it is promising to hear that the next iteration of whatever Nebraska football looks like will be committed to running the ball and committed to physicality.

Two of the most important tenets of what NU football was built upon in the first place.


  • • Texts from columnists
  • • The most breaking Husker news
  • • Cutting-edge commentary
  • • Husker history photo galleries
Get started
* I understand and agree that registration on or use of this site constitutes agreement to its user agreement and privacy policy.

Husker sports reporter/columnist

A Funk native and graduate of Lincoln Southeast, Amie Just joined the Journal Star as sports columnist after spending five seasons covering football for the New Orleans Times-Picayune and the Missoulian in Missoula, Montana.

Related to this story

Get up-to-the-minute news sent straight to your device.


News Alerts

Breaking News

Husker News