Ben Mason’s historic day
Everything went right for Michigan this past Saturday against Nebraska in the Wolverines’ 56-10 win. A game that had multiple record book-altering statistical accomplishments. There was a 100-yard rushing game by Karan Higdon, a punt return TD by Donovan Peoples-Jones and the defense held yet another opponent to under 300 yards of total offense. But probably the most eye-popping one was the day that fullback Ben Mason had.
Fullback has been called a “dying position” in football. Teams ditching the pro style for the spread offense and having another receiver on the field, or even pro style outfits having multiple tight ends as opposed to a fullback. Most pro style teams do feature fullbacks, however they rarely touch the football.
Fullback a dead position at Michigan, though? Not hardly.
Dennis Franklin (1972-74) handing off to Ed Shuttlesworth (1971-1973)
When Coach Harbaugh got the job at the University of San Diego in 2004, he called and gave the good news to his coach and mentor Bo Schembechler.
“When I got my first coaching job at the University of San Diego, I called my coach Bo Schembechler and told him that I was the coach at the University of San Diego,” Harbaugh said. “Before he said congratulations, he said, ‘Jimmy, tell me you are going to have a tight end that puts his hand in that ground on every snap. Tell me that you are going to have a fullback that lines directly behind the quarterback, and a halfback in the I-formation.’
“‘Yes, coach, we will have that.’
‘Good, congratulations on getting your job!'”
No position group was happier in the Michigan program than the fullbacks when Jim Harbaugh was hired in December of 2014. Michigan’s starting fullback under ex-coach Brady Hoke, Joe Kerridge, had just 4 career carries in his career. Once Harbaugh took over, that number skyrocketed in 2015 with Kerridge toting the rock 14 times for 62 yards and 1 touchdown.
Since then, fullbacks have seen a renaissance at Michigan. Khalid Hill, previously a tight end prior to Harbaugh’s arrival, became the starter in 2016 and recorded 10 rushing touchdowns in 2016. The “hammering panda” found himself tied for second all-time in the Michigan single season record books for rushing TDs by a fullback, second only to Ed Shuttlesworth with 11 back in 1972.
There isn’t even a section for fullbacks in U-M’s official record book it publishes on MGoBlue.com every year. Perhaps after this year that’ll change. Ben Mason’s 3 touchdown effort this past Saturday was a historic one that no one in the media knew enough about to mention, whether on Twitter or in the papers.
So I did some research. I compiled career, single season and single game rushing records for fullbacks at Michigan, as well as the top-10 ranking fullbacks in each category.
Career Fullback Rushing Attempts
Career Fullback Rushing Yards
Career Fullback Rushing Touchdowns
Something to note here: The late, great Rob Lytle came to Michigan as a running back and played that position during the 1974 season. However, once Gordon Bell got here, Lytle selflessly moved to fullback so he could help The Team, The Team, The Team in any way he could. Rob Lytle played the entire 1975 season as a fullback and the first nine games of the 1976 season before Bo moved him to tailback for the final three games that year. Statistics above reflect this.
#41 Rob Lytle (1974-76) carrying against Wake Forest
Michigan’s wishbone offense was a fullback’s dream. Ed Shuttlesworth shared a loaded backfield with Billy Taylor, Dennis Franklin and Chuck Heater on the early Schembechler teams and still managed to be Michigan’s all-time top fullback statistically. Now let’s take a look at the single season marks-
Single Season Rushing Attempts by a Fullback
Single Season Rushing Yards by a Fullback
Single Season Rushing Touchdowns by a Fullback
Ah, B.J. Askew. While being listed as a fullback in 2002, he curiously started several games at running back. Technically that qualifies him to be on this list as a fullback. Not only was Askew a great ground-gainer, but he also is Michigan’s career record holder for receiving yards by a RB and FB. If you were a running back here in the late 90s/early 2000s, you were a part of the passing offense. Also as mentioned earlier, Khalid Hill is tied for second in single season FB rush TDs. One of two men in the top-10 from the 21st century.
I have no doubt that Ben Mason will be on the single season and career lists in the future. However, the list he is on right now is a single game list and he did it this past Saturday in his triple touchdown outing against the Cornhuskers-
Single Game Rushing Attempts by a Fullback
Single Game Rushing Yards by a Fullback
Single Game Rushing Touchdowns by a Fullback
The last Wolverine fullback to get to 3 TDs rushing in a game was when the head coach was the starting QB in 1984 against the #1 Hurricanes. This is quite a statistical and historical feat, and it is only fitting that one of Harbaugh’s players was the next to do it.