IOWA CITY – Drake Kulick hears footsteps, and the Iowa fullback doesn’t consider that to be a bad thing.
Competition for a starting assignment in the Hawkeye lineup is motivating the junior from Muscatine.
“I don’t take anything for granted,’’ Kulick said. “I’m pushing myself to get better every day in everything I do. I realize I’m not alone. I’m going to have to earn it. That’s the way it should be.’’
Kulick is competing with redshirt freshman Brady Ross for the chance to fill the physically demanding and critical role in the Hawkeye offense.
Like Kulick, Ross began his career at Iowa as a walk-on linebacker.
The Humboldt, Iowa, native joins Kulick in being listed at 6-foot-1 and at 240 pounds, Ross is four pounds heavier than Kulick.
Both have impressed coach Kirk Ferentz with their aggressive approach at a position where Macon Plewa and Adam Cox followed the same linebacker-to-fullback path and provided the Hawkeyes with consistent performances over the past three seasons.
“I think we have some guys that are going to do just fine. They’re not as proficient, just like Macon and Adam weren’t as good there three years ago as they were last year, but we feel good about the position,’’ Ferentz said.
“Those guys are the unknown stories, really. If you want to have a successful year, those are the kind of guys you have to have on your football team at the end of the day.’’
Fullback isn’t a glamorous position.
Plewa carried the ball one time last season and combined with Cox for three receptions, but their blocking ability and the consistency in their execution allowed the Hawkeyes to build a rushing attack which averaged 181.7 yards per game a year ago.
That led to an average rushing advantage of just over 60 yards per game, a significant factor in Iowa’s 12-2 record and unbeaten run through 12 regular-season games.
“Fullback can be a kind of a thankless position, but the job those guys do is so important,’’ quarterback C.J. Beathard said. “They don’t get a lot of pub, but we understand that they make our offense work.’’
Kulick got a taste of competition in a win at Northwestern, rushing three times for eight yards and catching one pass for a 22-yard gain in the Hawkeyes’ 40-10 road victory.
“It was good to be out there and compete. I tried to put what I’ve learned to use and even now, that’s what I’m attempting to do,’’ Kulick said. “Things don’t feel a whole lot different right now. I know there is a starting job available and I’m going to do everything I can to earn it.’’
In the midst of his third fall camp as a fullback at Iowa, Kulick finds himself putting to use what he learned from Plewa and Cox.
He said their transition from the defensive side of the ball to offense helped him adjust as well, although the physical mentality of the fullback position is similar to the way Kulick approached the game as a linebacker.
But things are different without Plewa and Cox in camp with the Hawkeyes.
“It’s a little different not having those two guys around, but they were both good guys to learn from,’’ Kulick said. “They understood the position and the nuances of it as well as anybody and they helped any way they could to help make me better.’’
Now, he feels ready to put what he has learned to work.
“It’s a matter of doing things the right way,’’ Kulick said. “The bar is set pretty high because of how consistent those guys were and it’s my job now to bring the same to the field every day both in how I compete and in how I prepare. I feel ready. I feel like I can make that happen and a lot of it has to do with what I’ve learned the past couple of years.’’