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Lafayette's Greg Kessel shows there's still a role for fullbacks in college football
The fullback may be going out of style in college football, with the game’s increasing emphasis on showy passing games, 37 or so receivers split to the right and one-back sets.
But there’s no danger of the fullback disappearing from Lafayette College’s lineup any time soon – even if the spot has a fancy name and a new role.
“We look at (fullbacks) as H-backs, a new-fangled term, referring to part tight end/part fullback,” Lafayette coach Frank Tavani said. “We use them as part tight ends, part offensive linemen, part wide receivers, sometimes on the wing. They have to be able to run the ball up the gut and then line up and put their hands down and block. We have three (Greg Kessel, Pat Creahan and Jake McTighe), all with good size and all very physical.”
So meet one of them: Greg Kessel, a 6-foot-1, 240-pound sophomore from East Stroudsburg South High School. Kessel has excelled in all the roles required of him and has become known to Leopards fans for his leaping over piles carrying the ball for first downs and touchdowns.
“That was kind of an impulse,” Kessel said of his first leap. “I was following (fellow fullback) Pat Creahan into the hole, and all the defensive linemen were down the ground so I just went over the top. If I’d stayed on the ground, they’d have tackled me.”
That kind of common-sense thinking and physical play have earned Kessel a prominent role in the Lafayette offense as the Leopards prepare for the long journey to Worcester, Mass. to take on Holy Cross in a Patriot League game Saturday afternoon.
Kessel has a way of being around in critical situations. He caught five passes as a freshman – two for touchdowns. In last Saturday’s thrilling overtime win over Colgate, he hauled in a career-long 26-yard pass from Andrew Shoop to set up the Leopards’ second touchdown.
“I knew there was a very good chance the ball might be coming to me,” Kessel said. “I was the first read and I got open over the middle. I knew I had to catch the ball, it was going to be a big play. Andrew has a great arm and he gets the ball there fast but I managed to catch it.”
Tavani wasn’t surprised.
“We’ve seen Greg make that catch in practice an awful lot,” Tavani said."(The fullbacks) are all multi-faceted players and they are real contributors on special teams (Kessel had a key block on a 78-yard kickoff return for a TD by Ross Scheuerman against Colgate). I call them ‘backbone guys.’ When we recruited Greg he had the size and athleticism and great hands. We saw he could really run, but we wondered where to put him. H-back was perfect.”
Kessel played tight end and linebacker for successful teams at East Stroudsburg South that won Mountain Valley Conference crowns. His father, Gary, is one of the nation’s top college wrestling officials – he officiated the 2011 championship bout of Easton Area High School graduate Jordan Oliver at the NCAA Tournament in Philadelphia.
“I think having an official for a father gives me more respect for referees,” Kessel said. “I don’t question calls, I keep them to myself. And I am very proud of the job he does as an official.”
Kessel chose to attend Lafayette to stay close to his family and selected the Leopards over this week’s opponents.
“I didn’t hear about Lafayette until later in the recruiting process, and it came down to Lafayette or Holy Cross,” Kessel said. “Everything else was about equal, and I liked the coaches at Lafayette and that I’d be close to my family and could see them whenever I wanted.”
Beating his second-choice school would allow Kessel and the Leopards to move to 5-5 and have a shot at a winning season with an upset of rival Lehigh in the final game.
“We have to keep the emotion up this week,” Kessel said. “That plays a key role in the game. And we made a lot of plays last week against Colgate when we needed to and we have to keep on doing that.”
Kessel has six carries for 17 yards and a touchdown this season and has caught eight passes for 74 yards. He said football as a sophomore has come easier to him than it did as a freshman.
“I know more about the offense, and I know more about the schemes,” he said. “I have a better idea of the offense as a whole, not just what I doing but what the whole play is. As a freshman, the size of the playbook was overwhelming – it’s close to being as big as a textbook. Dealing with (the playbook) keeps a lot of freshmen off the field. This year I have a better understanding of it. And after a year with strength coach (Brad) Potts I am lot stronger as a receiver and as a blocker.”
That’s been good news for a Leopards running game that has been revived by junior Vaughn Hebron and freshman Scheuerman (611 combined yards this season, 109 against Colgate last week.”
“Ross is a stretch-play runner, more of an outside guy,” Kessel said. “Vaughn’s good on the inside zones; he puts his head down and runs. But who’s in the game doesn’t change the way we block.”
It’s just another one of the fullback’s roles, after all.
By Brad Wilson, The Express-Times