By LEE ADAMS
In 2010, Patrick Hanrahan was the starting fullback for the Mississippi State Bulldogs, but 2011 brings three new guys in Sylvester Hemphill, Adrian Marcus and William Shumpert.
Hemphill, who saw playing time in all 13 games last season, didn’t see much time at the fullback position. Although most of his time was spent on special teams, he did have one carry at fullback against Auburn and had one carry and one receptions against Houston.
The junior had several carries during his first season as well but was still mainly a special teams player. However, no matter what his role is, he’s ready for it and is working hard to be ready.
“Whatever my role is, I’m willing to play it,” said Hemphill. “I’ve been working on my hands when catching the ball out of the backfield. I’m also working on my blocking because I have to keep my head up and use my hands more.”
Another player fighting for the position is sophomore Adrian Marcus. Marcus, who walked on in the fall on 2009, played in 12 games last season. During those games he played as a reserve running back and was on several special team units. Despite playing in 12 games last season he only carried the ball during two games. In week one, he rushed for 24 yards on six carries against Memphis, but his next carry wasn’t until January 1st at the Gator Bowl, where he rushed for 24 yards on seven carries. Marcus has provided depth for the Bulldogs and has been described as a “all-around runner and blocker.”
Both Hemphill and Marcus have been been hard at work during the opening weeks practice and head coach Dan Mullen has noticed their progress.
“They’re coming along,” said Mullen. “Sylvester (Hemphill) is a guy with experience who has played a bunch so I feel comfortable with him, and Adrian (Marcus) is a guy who gives us a little more athleticism.”
Adding more athleticism to the position is William Shumpert. Shumpert is a bruising fullback who has yet to have the chance to show Bulldog fans his abilities. He was redshirted his true freshman year, and then spent 2010 on the sidelines after suffering a neck injury in August. The injury didn’t allow him to play in 2010, but has recovered from the injury but still has some work to do.
“Shumpert is still coming back,” said Mullen. “When you have an injury like he had, it’s a longer recovery period. Not just health wise, but comfort wise with just being out there on the field.”
Once Shumpert gets fully recovered, Mullen isn’t worried about his ability to play the game.
“He is a powerful athletic fullback who you can hand the ball to,” said Mullen.
Hemphill feels Shumpert is getting back to normal and is happy to have his fellow fullback back on the field.
“I feel like he’s getting better,” said Hemphill. “He’s looking like the old Shump again and I’m glad to see him back.”
The competition for the starting fullback position is a friendly one as all three players are helping each other out.
“It’s not just every man for himself, they help me with my weaknesses and vice versa.” said Hemphill. “There is competition, so we know we have to give our best, and we’ll see in the end who comes up with the number one spot.”
The role of a fullback in the spread offense that the Bulldogs run isn’t as defined as in most offenses, but all the fullbacks know their role.
“(The role) might not be as big as everybody else, but when we get in there, we do the best we can to help the offense and go as hard as we can on special teams,” Hemphill said.
Even though Hemphill, Marcus and Shumpert will continue to see playing time on special teams, the impact of those players could also be noticed in the backfield.