Auburn's youth movement in 2011 might have been a hindrance, but it is also a stepping stone for future squads. The recent transfer of fullback Jay Prosch from Illinois to Auburn could become a huge addition to the offense in 2012 should his NCAA waiver come through allowing him to avoid sitting out of games as a redshirt during the upcoming season.
Jay Prosch is shown at practice for the Alabama-Mississippi All-Star Game in December 2009.
Over the past 30 years Auburn has established a long tradition of quality fullback play, which exemplified the team's physical presence on the offensive side of the football. Under Pat Dye, Auburn was fortunate to have Tommy Agee, Collis Campbell, Reggie Ware and Alex Strong at the fullback position.
Agee finished his Auburn career with 1,733 yards rushing along with an additional 32 receptions. In 1983 Agee rushed for 604 yards and went on to play seven seasons in the NFL after his senior campaign. Campbell rushed for more than 500 yards in 1985 and Ware finished his Auburn career with 23 rushing touchdowns.
Auburn's combination of Tony Richardson and Reid McMilion from 1991-1993 at the fullback position was the heart and soul of the run offense. In 1993 that duo combined for 481 yards rushing and 40 receptions.
Coach Terry Bowden made terrific use of Richardson and McMilion on the fullback dive play as well as on the wheel routes and swing passes out of the backfield. Richardson went on to a highly successful career in the NFL, playing for 15 seasons.
Fred Beasley arrived at Auburn in 1994 as a running back, but made the transformation to fullback before he departed in 1997. He rushed for 1,241 yards while adding an additional 42 career receptions. Beasley was drafted by the San Francisco '49ers where he played for six seasons.
Heath Evans was the next successful fullback after Beasley, rushing for 626 yards while adding 30 career receptions. Like the many fullbacks before him, Evans was known for his physical play and his ability to be a consistent lead blocker. His physical style and athletic ability resulted in an 11-year NFL career.
Since Evans played at Auburn the Tigers have fielded Brandon Johnson, Jake Slaughter and Eric Smith at fullback. Johnson and Slaughter saw very few offensive touches, but they became vital components of the running game. Smith played multiple roles under offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn, but is remembered for his play as a fullback. He was a solid receiver out of the backfield and, like his predecessors, was a very physical player.
With Malzahn moving to Arkansas State, Auburn will likely go to a more traditional styled offense in 2012, although new coordinator Scot Loeffler said that what the Tigers do offensively will be based on what is the best fit for the personnel on hand. The transfer of Jay Prosch might be a hint to Auburn's next offensive style of football.
At 6-1, 250 pounds Prosch earned All-American honors as a true sophomore, his second season as a starter at the Big 10 school. With his combination of size and strength Prosch will be like having an extra lineman in the backfield. He might not touch the football often, but he will likely be a key to Auburn reestablishing its physical presence on offense.
During Prosch's freshman and sophomore seasons, Illinois averaged 209 yards rushing per game at 4.6 yards per rush with Prosch paving the way as the lead blocker. He transferred to Auburn in January and will be able to participate in spring practice.
Auburn fans have always revered the effort and performances of their top fullbacks and Prosch has the talent and ability to be the next outstanding fullback on the Plains. Auburn has been commonly known as "Running back U" and those great running backs benefitted from the consistent performance of their fullbacks.
Look for Prosch to become a fan favorite at Auburn as well as a respected member of the football team among his peers and coaches.