Carrying the Load

ATHENS - After a season of uncertainty in 2008, Shaun Chapas faces an all-but-certain future for the 2009 season.

The rising junior fullback will carry the load at that position in the coming year for Georgia. That's essentially what happened last year, even if it wasn't the way things were supposed to happen.

The 2008 season was supposed to be the swan song for fullback Brannan Southerland, but injuries derailed that. Chapas entered 2008 knowing he would be the starter in the first five games while Southerland recovered from a foot injury, but everyone thought he would take a back seat once Southerland returned.

Instead, Southerland never returned to his old form, and Chapas began to play like the Southerland of old. He finished the season with three times as many carries and catches than his elder teammates.

For the year, Chapas caught nine passes for 120 yards and a touchdown and carried the ball seven times for 25 yards. Not gaudy number, but respectable for a fullback.

"I really just tried to take it game by game once we got into the season," Chapas said. "That was pretty much my approach, and it seemed to work out for me."

The fullback's life is not draped in glory, Chapas knows. His spring and off-season will be filled with repetition after repetition of one of the most mind-numbing drills in the game. For quarterbacks and wide receivers, the off-season is all about "pass skeleton", where they get together and work on passing drills, timing and route-running.

As off-season workouts go, it's of the glamour variety. It's even got cool nicknames like "pass skel" or even "skelly." For fullbacks and running backs, the equivalent is called "run polish." It has no cool nickname and is almost as exciting as hopscotch.

Over and over again, the quarterbacks and running backs work on the footwork and hand placement necessary to make handoffs look routine.

"You do the same stuff over and over and over again, but it's what you need to do to build the timing," Chapas said.

How many times between the end of 2008 and the beginning of 2009 might the backs work on run polish?

"Umm… a lot," Chapas said. "I don't know if I could put a number on it. I would lose count if I tried to add it up."

And Chapas will be in the film room looking at himself and trying to determine what tiny technique he can improve upon to make himself a better player.

"It's about seeing things that you might not always get right, just being more consistent and seeing your self make more plays, not necessarily score more touchdowns or whatever, but getting your fits just right. That kind of thing."

Again, it can all sound mundane, but it's the key to the position, Chapas said.

"One of the things that (assistant coach Tony) Ball always harped on for the fullbacks is once you get in the hitting zone, getting into the proper position and getting your power foot down and exploding up and through, rolling your hips into the blocks. That's something that's really not natural to do, so that's something that you have to work on."

When it all begins to get a little too tedious, Chapas can fall back on his good memories. For fullbacks, good memories mean knocking someone flat on their back. One of his fondest personal plays from the 2008 season came during one of the team's most bitter defeats, the regular-season ending loss to rival Georgia Tech.

"We ran a lead play against Tech," Chapas said, describing a running play in which he leads the tailback (in this case Knowshon Moreno) through the hole. "Knowshon and I read it the exact same way. The (defensive tackle) pinched down. The (defensive end) pinched down. It was a play that was supposed to hit between the center and the guard, and we actually ended up bouncing it all the way outside. Once we got around the end, I got a pretty good block, lifted the guy up a little bit and Knowshon broke it for a 35-yard touchdown. So that one stands out. When I came off the field, I thought, ‘That one felt good.'"

It's the memory of those moments that will keep Chapas working through this off-season, preparing for a season in which the rising junior will no longer be looked at as a surprise.

"I just want to get better every day kind of like the last season I got better," he said. "Seeing improvement is the biggest thing I am going to go for in every game."

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