ANN ARBOR, Mich. — Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh has earned praise for developing quarterbacks throughout his career. He has also done wonders for another, much less glamorous position: Fullback.
Senior Khalid Hill has four touchdowns, tied for the team lead for the No. 4-ranked Wolverines, who host No. 8 Wisconsin Saturday. While Hill says scoring touchdowns is the fun part of the job, the converted tight end’s ability to block and protect the quarterback has Harbaugh believing he has an NFL future.
“It’s a real natural position for him. He’s tough, he’s got the size and the strength to be a prototypical type of fullback. He’s got the catching ability and has the added attribute of being able to run with the football,” Harbaugh said. “I think he’ll have a chance to play that position and make a career out of it, I really do.”
Looking a bit out of place wearing his No. 80 jersey in the backfield, the 6-foot-2, 263-pound Hill admits he is learning his new position on the fly at times. He took the blame for missing a block on blitzing Colorado defensive back Chidobe Awuzie that led to a sack of quarterback Wilton Speight and a scoop-and-score fumble return for the Buffaloes early in Michigan’s 45-28 win on Sept. 17.
Still, he also knows he’s a bit of a rare breed, playing well at a position that doesn’t exist on many of today’s college football rosters.
“People sleep on the fullback position, but we do a lot of hard work,” said Hill, who shares the position with senior Henry Poggi, a converted defensive lineman. “It’s not easy to say I’m about to go straight down the line and hit a linebacker right in his face. A lot of people don’t want to do that.”
Hill has capitalized on his modest nine carries this season, scoring four times and converting two fourth-down chances. Last week against Penn State, he accomplished both: He scored the Wolverines’ first touchdown in a 49-10 win on a 4th-and-goal play from the 1-yard-line. Hill also has a career-high six receptions.
Hill watches film of last year’s Michigan fullbacks, Sione Houma and Joe Kerridge, in hopes of picking up tips to improve his ball-carrying ability. Unlike Hill, those two played the fullback position for four years at Michigan. Like Hill, they flourished under Harbaugh in the coach’s first season in Ann Arbor.
Houma had as many special teams tackles (14) as he did yards of total offense (2 receptions, 14 yards) in his first three seasons. Last year, the long-haired son of Tongan immigrants became a fan favorite while rushing 43 times for 184 yards and five touchdowns.
That wasn’t the first time Harbaugh helped make a star out of a fullback. When Harbaugh coached Stanford, one of his most popular players was Owen Marecic, who also started at middle linebacker. While coaching the San Francisco 49ers, Harbaugh converted defensive end Bruce Miller into a fullback.
“I think the fullback position has given me another shot to really get out there, help the team and contribute,” Hill said. “I’m proud of that and I’m going to keep working and getting better.”