ATHENS — There are many firsts on this year’s Georgia football team, and this one isn’t particularly headline-making, but it’s worth pointing out anyway: It will be the first time in five years that Georgia has not had a fullback who was recruited to campus on scholarship.
Quayvon Hicks has moved on after a four-year career in which he drifted in and out of the starting lineup. Hicks always looked the part, a chiseled and intriguing combination off size and athleticism. But his inconsistency as a blocker opened the door for walk-ons to occasionally supplant him.
That’s not to say Hicks was always utilized to his full abilities. He could have been put in more passing situations, and it was confounding last year when he didn’t get the ball in short-yardage situations, while the Bulldogs instead lined up in an I-formation and handed it to the tailback. Who was often stuffed.
Whatever the case, Hicks is gone now – and by the way he got an invite to the NFL combine, so his career might not be over quite yet. In the meantime, there’s not a void behind him: Christian Payne, who supplanted Hicks as the starter late in 2014, and was the first-teamer most of the time last year when healthy, is back. So is Glenn Welch, who got action at the spot late this season.
Georgia has had success turning walk-ons into serviceable, if not productive, options at fullback. Payne and Welch fall in a long line that also has recently included Merritt Hall and Taylor Maxey. The previous Bulldog coaching staff still wasn’t afraid to use scholarships on a fullback: Two years before Hicks signed, the team inked Zander Ogletree. (Yes, it did help that his twin brother was a highly-sought linebacker. But Ogletree did see plenty of playing time before he left the team because of what was called a medical issue.)
If Alabama’s history is any indication, Kirby Smart figures to employ the same strategy. The last fullback Alabama signed was Mike Darrow in 2009, but he didn’t stay long and since then the Crimson Tide have just utilized walk-ons.
So we’ve said all that about the most overlooked position on offense. Could we still say more? Why of course! Here you go:
- Returning starter: Christian Payne, Jr.
- Others returning: Glenn Welch, Jr.; Nick Moore, Soph.; Kyle LeStrange, Sr.; Turner Fortin, RFr.
- Early enrollees: None.
- On the way: None.
- Analysis: Payne, who went to high school at Athens’ Prince Avenue Prep, only played in eight games last year, after cracking his fibula in the preseason and re-injurying it against South Carolina. But he returned in time to be named the team’s Comeback Player of the Year. He emerged as an option in the play-action passing game, catching four passes for 57 yards, including a 20-yarder at Auburn. Welch, the younger brother of former Georgia walk-on QB Parker Welch, moved into a bigger role while Payne was out. Welch (6-3, 244) is a former offensive lineman who was actually Greyson Lambert’s center in high school. Moore is the former Boston Red Sox minor leaguer who walked on at Georgia last year, first playing inside linebacker, before switching to fullback. LeStrange and Fortin were on scout team last year.
- Bottom line: Payne enters in good position to be the starter, with Welch’s experience also offering another option. But like everything on offense this spring, a new set of eyes – Smart, offensive coordinator Jim Chaney and running backs coach Dell McGee – means anything could happen.
Here are the previous stories in our series:
- Part I: Georgia has cornerbacks covered
- Part II: Bulldogs have safety in numbers
- Part III: A new era for Georgia’s OLBs
- Part IV: Strong LB play rests on Carter’s shoulders
- Part V: Georgia still seeking that great nose
- Part VI: Dogs look for growth at D-end
- Part VII: Georgia’s muddled kicking situation
- Part VIII: Punting duties anybody’s guess for now
- Part IX: UGA’s special-teams strength returns
- Part X: Success of UGA’s offense centers on line
- Part XI: A return to the old guard on the O-line
- Part XII: Competition intense, options many at tackle
- Part XIII: UGA’s deep TE legacy continues
- Part XIV: Quantity is not an issue at receiver for UGA