ALL-TIME TEAM: Fullbacks

Few positions on the All-Time Tyrone football team demonstrate the forever altered complexion of the game of football quite like that of fullback.

Ask a young player in 2018 what a fullback is and he might tell you it’s a complete one. It’s just not a position that is common in the current era.

That’s not to say offenses do not use blocking backs because they certainly do, but the position isn’t used with enough down-to-down frequency that a player labeled a fullback would find himself on the field for most plays.

These days the running game is built on zone reads, stretch plays, and finding gaps in the defense. For all of the members of the all-time team filling the role of fullback, that wasn’t the case. For them, a fullback was an every down player used not only for blocking but for receptions out of the backfield and quick-hitter hand-offs that could be broken for big gains.

Similar to quarterback, where one starter was chosen along with a handful of backups, the position of fullback on the rebooted All-Time team is an all-or-nothing, one shot deal.

However, as this is an All-Time team with a modern flare, some accommodations will be made to create special situation formations.

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There have been some excellent fullbacks at Tyrone through the years, and perhaps even more so than offensive line it has been a position that has toiled in relative anonymity in part because of the mind-boggling numbers produced by featured running backs, receivers, and quarterbacks.  In the 1980s, Shawn Johnson was an animal under Coach Chuck Hoover, a prototypical fire-plug fullback who was every bit as good as a receiver as he was a runner or blocker.  In 1998 and 1999, Josh Lucas rang up more than 1,500 yards while clearing the way for Jesse Jones, and were it not for that legendary runner from Hollidaysburg Catholic chances are Lucas would have had back-to-back thousand-yard seasons.

But there is no fullback from Tyrone who ever had the complete and total package in the same manner as Mark Wyland, the starter at this position on the All-Time team.

Wyland started for three seasons from 1995 through 1997, and there was never a time during that period when he wasn’t a factor for the Golden Eagles.

It’s no coincidence that in those three seasons Tyrone lost just one regular season game and copped three District 6 championships.

As a sophomore in 1995, while blowing open holes for then-junior Marcus Owens, Wyland was having a pretty nice season himself.  He ran for 732 yards on 108 carries (7.1 yards per carry) and caught 22 passes for 174 yards.  Both of those figures were second-best on a team that finished 12-2 and advanced to the PIAA Final Four. That was as a tenth grader.  And his blocking wasn’t bad either, considering Owens ran for 1,553 yards.

His junior season, Wyland ran for 832 yards on 148 carries, caught 18 passes for 202 yards, and scored 10 touchdowns.  What’s more, his blocking never dipped as he became more involved in the offense, as evidenced by Owens’ 2,000-yard season as Tyrone marched to the PIAA championship game.  It was a trip that would never have been possible without the steady hands of Wyland, who against Wilmington in the PIAA quarterfinals made one of the legendary catches in Tyrone history.

And is the case with many things fullbacks do, it is also often overlooked.

Tyrone trailed Wilmington 10-7 in the third quarter at Sharon.  The Golden Eagles had knocked Wilmington out of the PIAA playoffs in 1995 in Altoona, so this was supposed to be an evening of the score.  It didn’t turn out that way, and Wyland is a big reason why.  Tyrone stopped a Wilmington drive at its own 10 thanks to an interception by Owens with 4:41 left in the third quarter, and then began a 16-play, eight-minute drive that lasted in to the fourth quarter.  Along the way quarterback Jarrod Anderson completed some critical passes: on third-and-17 he hit Andy Woomer for 19 yards, with Woomer diving to make a one-handed grab.  On third-and-7 he found Matt Sharer for 12.

But the biggest completion came on fourth-and-5 when he connected with Wyland over the middle for a 16-yard catch-and-run that kept alive what amounted to the game-winning drive.  Owens eventually scored from the 10, Tyrone’s defense held firm, and the Eagles advanced to face Aliquippa in the PIAA semifinals.  There’s no denying Wyland was a fullback who made plays.

His senior season in 1997 Wyland became the featured back and played much of the season at tailback, wearing a brace to support his right knee after he had torn his ACL.  Was he hobbled by the injury?  Eh, not really.  He ran for 1,224 yards, caught 13 passes for 121 yards, and scored a school record 33 touchdowns.  Simply put, Wyand was the centerpiece on a team of alphas that could run and loved to spread it around.

The Golden Eagles of 1997 had the ability to score from anywhere, as their 444 points  suggest, and they had a stable of players who could get you yards, especially running yards.  Quarterback Matt Sharer ran for 650 yards while passing for 1,300.  Jones, as a freshman, emerged in Week 5 as a starter and ran for 787 yards.

And even in a system that shared the ball unlike any in the Franco era – the 1999 state title team included – Wyland was clearly the big dog of the rushing game.  And the big dog ate that season.

If we were to bring a group of the best fullbacks from Tyrone into camp to battle for this position, the list would be a strong one. Johnson would have to be on it.  He was never the featured back and in the power-I system of Chuck Hoover he was going to be a blocking back, but he was exceptionally good at his job.  Scott Hoover ran for more than 1,000 yards Johnson’s junior season in 1988, and Johnson was an instrumental part of Tyrone’s first District title team in 1987 when he was the team’s second-leading receiver.  An injury cut his career short and he never played his senior season, but Johnson was the real deal.

Another invite would have to go to Brinton Mingle, who like Wyland played much of his career at fullback before becoming the featured back his senior season.  But Mingle took a back seat to no one.  Mingle blocked well enough that Brice Mertiff ran for 1,500 yards in 2003 and 2,000 yards in 2004 following Mingle’s lead. During his junior season in 2004, when Tyrone advanced to the PIAA semifinals, Mingle ran for 921 yards – a fine compliment to Mertiff’s two grand – and he excelled in the playoffs.  He ran for 135 yards in the District finals against Bishop McCort and then bludgeoned Seton LaSalle for 118 yards in the PIAA quarterfinals.  When he became the feature back as a senior, Mingle came through with 1,132 yards and 23 touchdowns.

So if you need a backfield for a special situation, think of this scenario.  It’s fourth-and-goal from the five and the coach yells for the beef backfield.  Trotting into the field come Wyland, Johnson, and Mingle to line up in a straight T.  Who gets the ball?  Will it be a straight dive, will the runner get one (maybe two) lead blockers, or will the Eagles flip it up and go play action to a back out of the backfield?

Doesn’t matter.  Just put six on the board.

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