OU football: Clapp learning to be all things at fullback

By John Helsley Modified: September 4, 2008 at 12:37 am •  Published: September 4, 2008
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NORMAN — Ask Matt Clapp to label his position on the Oklahoma football team, and he inserts a slash.

"Fullback/running back,” Clapp says.

For the record, Clapp sits atop the depth chart at fullback. First team. Numero uno.

With an asterisk.

At Oklahoma and across the Big 12, as well as much of the country, fullback has become an option. And not Option A.

More like Option O — for occasional.

With the proliferation of spread offenses in college football, we might be witnessing the death of the fullback.

Of the teams in the Big 12, a conference that has been overrun by the spread, only five of the 12 teams employ a fullback full time. The Sooners are one of the other seven, meaning Clapp gets the title of starter, if not the regular role.

It's not that OU has abandoned the fullback completely. There are situations – short yardage, on the goal line, times when they just want to flex some muscle — where the Sooners will employ a traditional power set.

"It's not the old bruiser fullback, pounding all the time,” Clapp said. "But it's still there.”

On paper, yes, it's there, but as one of 12 listed positions on OU's weekly depth chart. Of course, only 11 players are allowed on the field. And the Sooners are mostly married to a look that features three wide receivers and a tight end, essentially squeezing out the fullback.

There are times, too, when tight end Brody Eldridge lines up as the fullback, seizing some of the already scant opportunities when the position is in play.

None of this is a knock on Clapp.

OU coaches praise his potential and work on creating ways to get Clapp involved.

An accomplished rusher in high school, Clapp ran for more than 1,000 yards and scored 18 touchdowns as a senior at Paradise High in Phoenix — at fullback.

When DeMarco Murray and Chris Brown were sidelined by knee surgeries in the spring, Clapp took some turns in the rotation at running back.

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Matt Clapp

Fullbacks once were stars at OU, with some of the great players from the Sooners' past playing the position. The best:

1. Leon Heath 1948-50: An All-American dubbed the "Mule Train,” Heath led the nation with a 9.12-yards-per-carry average in 1949.

2. Prentice Gautt, 1957-59: Led the Sooners in rushing his final two seasons.

3. Buck McPhail 1950-52: An All-American who capably took the spotlight when Billy Vessels was injured in 1951.

4. Stanley Wilson 1979-82: His 3,198 career yards ranks No. 7 among OU rushers – No. 1 among fullbacks.

5. Jim Grisham 1962-64: No. 14 on OU's career rushing list, an All-American in 1963.

6. Kenny King 1975-78: A bolt up the middle, finished No. 13 in career rushing with 2,431 yards.

7. Billy Pricer 1954-56: A standout of the Wilkinson era.

8. Lydell Carr 1984-87: No. 9 on the all-time rushing list with 2,910 yards.

9. Leon Crosswhite, 1970-72: One of the great early wishbone fullbacks.

10. Waymon Clark, 1973: Just the one season, but ran for 1,014 yards.

By Berry Tramel

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