FSU spring game Box: Garnet 31, Gold 14Click Here to view this Link.
Tucked between a Heisman winner at quarterback and a stable of talented tailbacks, Freddie Stevenson lined up for the first day of FSU's spring practice. The fullback was a quiet part of the Seminole offense, paving the way for others.
His own path was about to open up.
Freshman Dalvin Cook underwent shoulder surgery just before spring practice began. Sophomore Ryan Green was lost to shoulder surgery of his own shortly after. Sophomore Mario Pender began to suffer injuries as well, and presumptive starter Karlos Williams was shut down in the last week of spring after getting banged up.
Suddenly, Stevenson was the only one left. By the time Saturday's Garnet and Gold Game arrived, he and backup Nigel Terrell were the only scholarship running backs -- fullback or not -- available for action.
"It was just straight fullback (at the start of spring practice)," Stevenson said. "Then, two weeks into it even before the injuries, (Jimbo Fisher) threw me into it so I would know some of the running back plays.
"That kind of helped out because it forced me to learn them, because he'd be mad at me if I didn't know it. At that point, once everybody got hurt, they knew I could do it."
The coaches gave Stevenson his chance in the final scrimmage. He led all rushers with 18 carries for 85 yards and a touchdown to help the Garnet Team to a 31-14 win. No other running back on either team had more than three carries.
Stevenson's role this fall won't be what it was on Saturday, but he earned himself an expanded role in the FSU offense this season thanks to his performance all spring.
"Freddie hasn't been back there much, but I really like the way he ran the football," head coach Jimbo Fisher said. "He's a natural runner with the ball. I think he can help us."
Most of Florida State's scholarship running backs started the day on sideline with the Gold Team, but they eventually moved over to the Garnet sideline. Stevenson's 6-yard touchdown run in the second quarter tied the game at 7-7 before his team scored 31 unanswered points. The rest of the running backs made their way over to the winning sideline later in the game to congratulate Stevenson, he said.
Stevenson could also sense the defense wearing down as he threw his 6-foot-1, 230-pound frame into tacklers time and time again.
"Later in the game," he said, "instead of hitting you heads-up, they come in from the side and try to leg tackle you."
Stevenson still has plenty to work on after spending just a handful of practices at tailback. He had a fumble on a handoff, and while he had three catches for 22 yards, Fisher would still like to see him sharpen his routes.
There are subtle differences between the two positions. Designed runs for fullback usually don't require any read, because there isn't time before the player hits the prescribed gap. At tailback, Stevenson has more time to see plays develop and build a head of steam before hitting the line.
"Karlos (Williams) is big and fast, but (Stevenson) is big and heavy," Fisher said. "It's a really good combination."
This Spring showed that Stevenson could be used as a weapon rather than a shield for other skill players. He'll be back at fullback when the rest of the backfield is healthy, but he'll still find his way on the field. He made the most of his time on the field this spring, and he'll have the opportunity to do the same when the season begins.
"With most teams in this league, you know which player is going to get the ball," Stevenson said. "Having a fullback that can run the ball and catch it, it puts them on their heels a little bit."