Like the offensive line, fullbacks tend to be overlooked by fans and the media. Even though the position isn’t known for long runs or winning touchdowns, the fullback is vital to the success of the Trojans offense next season.
Last season, the Trojans were somewhat limited in the run game. With an offense that is typically known for its wide and outside zone running, the Trojans found its success running inside. While one half could be blamed to the offensive line having a difficult time with their techniques and landmarks when running it wide, the other half can be chalked up to a lack of a system fullback.
With all that being said, the offense still produced a 1,000 yard rusher in Curtis McNeal. Leading the way for McNeal were seniors Rhett Ellison and Ross Cumming. With Ellison a tight end originally and Cumming a linebacker, the two had little experience lining up in the backfield. Both did a good job considering the circumstances, but their lack of experience also played a part in limiting the offense’s play-calling.
The Trojans should see more natural players lining up at the position this season. However, inexperience could once again play a factor. Both fullbacks heading into spring, Soma Vainuku and Simione Vehikite, have little to no game experience. Right now, all signs point to Vainuku as being penciled in as the starter.
Incoming freshman Jahleel Pinner (Mission Viejo, Calif./Mission Viejo) will be making a strong case for the job as well when he arrives in the fall. At 5-foot-11 and 235 pounds, Pinner has the style and playmaking ability to fit the Trojans offense. And although the fullback won’t be wearing a Trojans helmet until fall camp, he could push for playing time early if Vainuku and Vehikite can’t produce.
With the loss of Ellison and Cumming, one of the three must step up and assume the role. And if the Trojans can have the threat of a true fullback in the backfield, the offense will have yet another weapon for opposing defenses to scheme against.