Cantrell Getting Comfortable at Fullback

Sophomore Maurice Cantrell had been buried on the depth chart at linebacker since coming to Colorado in 2004 out of Washington High School in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. That changed in recent weeks after he made a switch from linebacker. Then in a recent practice, Cantrell served notice he had arrived in his new position.

Maurice Cantrell spent the past two years playing inside linebacker behind teammate Thaddaeus Washington on the depth chart. In August, Cantrell moved to fullback. Then in a practice the last week of September, Cantrell got the best of Washington in a play that turned the heads of his teammates and his head coach.

"He's a physical guy," Dan Hawkins said of Cantrell on Tuesday. "He de-cleated Thaddaeus (Washington in a recent practice)."

Cantrell, a humble kid with a work ethic that points to his Midwestern upbringing, explains the particular play.

"I was in the right place at the right time," he says. "It was an outside run play. I had to look for clean up. I saw him right as I was turning the corner and he was turning the corner. I think I saw him before he saw me. He was running straight up and I was lower than him. What happened, happened."

If you watched Cantrell in Saturday's game vs. Baylor, you'd have noticed the sophomore has some natural talent as a blocker. The talent has elevated Cantrell atop the depth chart at fullback after playing the position less than two months at Colorado.

During the spring and fall camp, CU players would practice different positions than their normal spot for one period a day. They call it "crossover period." Cantrell was practicing at fullback during the crossover period when he began to get the hang of it. One day, Cantrell approached his coaches about possibly moving into the offensive backfield fulltime and found they had been thinking the same thing, especially since the Buffs had just two fullbacks on the roster.

Though Hawkins downplays the fact that Cantrell got his first start in the Baylor game — CU doesn't use the fullback regularly, and the team just happened to start in that two-back set on Saturday — the fact tat Cantrell has gone from a man buried on the depth chart to one worthy of lining up on the team's first play from scrimmage is significant. At least it's brought some satisfaction to Cantrell.

"It feels really good," he said.

Obviously, Hawkins, a former college fullback, likes what he's seen out of the 6-foot, 235-pound Cantrell so far.

"He's starting to kind of figure out some of those nuances," Hawkins said. "When he gets it all down right, he's got good size and good explosion. He can get into you."

Getting into a would be tackler in the run game is what a Colorado fullback needs to do. Cantrell — who played both linebacker and fullback in high school — said that's what he's working on the most.

"There's a lot of things in common with the two positions (linebacker and fullback)," Cantrell said. "On defense, you're taught to attack a block and shed a block. On offense you have to attack the same block, but sustain it. So I'm trying to work on locking down (on blocks) right now. Instead of just going up there, hitting them and throwing them, I have to hit them and drive my feet."

With Cantrell used as the primary fullback on Saturday, CU had its most successful day on the ground, as the trio of tailbacks sprang loose for 177 yards. Of course, Cantrell wasn't on the field on all the rushing plays, and it's an overstatement to credit Cantrell with the slight boost in the ground game. Still, if you keyed on what Cantrell was doing Saturday, you could see he was "getting into" defenders.

"This is definitely the most comfortable I've felt with it," Cantrell said. "I go out there every day to get better, listen to my coach and watch film to see what I did wrong. Coach Hawk, he really emphasizes the little things, and little things add up.

"If there's something in meetings I don't quite understand, I ask about it no matter how dumb I might sound to other people. It's not about the other people, it's about me learning what I need to do."

• Center Mark Fenton did not participate in any team drills, but for the first time since fracturing his lower leg in the Georgia game, he did some footwork drills on his own during practice Tuesday. He's out for the Texas Tech game. Safety Ryan Walters practiced, and is probable.

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