NCAA FB

Couch: Just call fullback Jay Prosch Auburn's Blocker of Granite

Auburn fullback Jay Prosch (right), a blocking specialist, on one of his rare carries.
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Greg Couch

Greg Couch has been a national columnist at AOL Fanhouse and The Sporting News and an award-winning columnist at the Chicago Sun-Times. He was featured twice in "Best American Sports Writing" and was recognized by the US Tennis Writers Association for best column writing and match coverage. He covers tennis on his personal blog. Follow him on Twitter.

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NEWPORT BEACH, CALIF.

The thing that stands out about Jay Prosch is his head. It’s sort of puffy and has these thick ridges in it, topped off with a buzzcut. Somehow, you get the feeling he doesn’t really need a helmet because his head, well, is one.

He looks like a stereotype of a football player from the 1940s because that’s exactly what he is. Prosch, Auburn’s fullback, is stuck in time and should be playing in black and white.

And take that black-and-white image of this statue – as a teammate called him – and put it right there in the middle of genius coach Gus Malzahn’s new-age, modern, hurry-up, spread offense, which has put Auburn in the national championship game Monday night at the Rose Bowl against Florida State.

No, it’s more than that. Prosch is the centerpiece of this offense even though he never touches the ball. It’s like taking the engine from a Model T, sticking it in a modern car and winning the Daytona 500.

“None. I’ve had no handoffs this year,” he told me Thursday. “I had one touchdown (on a catch) against Western Carolina, I think.”

He thinks.

Prosch is a character and he takes pride in that. But he has a very human story, too, that might have lent to his toughness. Or possibly that toughness just helped him to survive. He is particularly close to his three older sisters, as the siblings comforted one another when their mother died of brain cancer in September 2012.

His father? “We don’t hear from him,” Prosch said. “We’re not really sure where he is anymore. We just have each other now.”

This season has been a savior for Prosch. He considers football his escape, but last year there was too much to escape from. On top of that, the team was falling apart.

Now, he’s on the nation’s miracle turnaround team, going unnoticed by fans but scaring the daylights out of the coaches watching him on film.

He is the best fullback in the country, as his coaches have told him. And that’s nice to hear and all, but what does it mean exactly today? There really aren’t traditional fullbacks anymore. “It’s still a compliment to me,” he said.

You might not see much of Prosch in the title game. I mean, he’ll be there, in the picture on your screen all the time, but he’ll be out in front of the guy with the ball everyone is focusing on.

Bascially, he’s an offensive lineman who gets a running start in the backfield. And he never misses a block.

Never.

Yet somehow, no one could envision that when he was coming out of high school, where he’d played offensive lineman for two years, then linebacker. He is a blocking specialist in a game that used to count blocking as one of its most important things. But out of high school in Alabama, where he grew up dreaming of playing in the SEC, no SEC teams wanted him.

Not even Auburn.

Northern Illinois and Illinois were the only major schools interested, and it says something about the modern game that no one could find use for a weightlifting-addicted blocking specialist.

“He’s like Hercules,” center Reese Dismukes said. “He looks like Hulk. He’s like a statue.”

Quarterback Nick Marshall called him a machine. And offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee called him “the glue guy for what we do.”

The question is how so many teams could have just let him go. Has the game changed so much that no one saw a need for a fullback who blocks?

Prosch went to Illinois (two years: two carries, one catch). At the start of his second year there, though, he got word his mom was sick.

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“We knew it was serious, but her process, halfway through the second year she seemed fine,” he said. “It hadn’t taken toll on her yet. At a certain point, it took over and she started deteriorating. Her body. Her mind. Everything was out the window. At that point, I just wanted to get home.”

He started writing all the schools in the area and was hoping he could be at South Alabama, close to his mom. Instead, Auburn decided it wanted him.

His first year there, last year under Gene Chizik, he said his job was about what he called “finesse” blocking, sealing off linebackers or carefully getting any kind of shot on a defensive back.

“Finesse” sounded like a swear word when he said it.

“I’m a hard-nosed type of guy,” he said. “I love playing rough-and-tough football.”

Malzahn figured out how to use that. Sooner or later, maybe everyone will figure out that it can still matter.

Tagged: Illinois, Auburn, Jay Prosch

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