Most football fans know only a few of the players’ back-story going into a new season. Those players are almost always established starters or maybe others who have had something interesting happen in their athletic or personal lives.
For instance we all know about James Conner and his issues off the field as well as the sterling work he’s done in uniform. You have to be a Pitt fan who lives under a rock not to know the details about that young man’s life.
We know about DB Whitehead, QB Peterman, RB Ollison and OL Bisnowaty…etc., well enough but we don’t really know, or haven’t paid attention to I guess, the kids who are fleeting up from the ranks to get playing time in the two-deep this upcoming season.
A few days ago we talked about our returning starter at OLB Mike Caprara. Today lets look at another guy, but on offense this time, who played some last year but will see more of the field this year at fullback – rsSO George Aston.
This position, fullback, is one that I think is undervalued by fans when they watch college football games. We tend to keep our eyes on the football itself- from the center snap to the QB to the handoff to the RB or to the pass to the receivers. What the other 10 guys on offense are doing isn’t what our eyes are accustomed to watching as the action unfolds.
I love the FB work that happens out there, but it is a position that is used at the whim of the Offensive Coordinator. You very rarely see plays called that don’t have the other offensive guys on the field when the play is actually run. You never see plays were all the receivers are pulled off the field, nor the OL or the RBs (for the most part).
As a matter of fact the only instance I can think of in Pitt’s case is the use of the Wildcat formation where the QB leaves the field and the RB gets a direct snap from the Center. We sucked at that and I never want to see it again – even if Peterman goes down.
However, sometimes we see whole games where a FB isn’t used although I do think the majority of the time we have the ball we’ll see two or even three RBs out there and one will be a FB. So Narduzzi has used a FB sometimes… and with good results.
Pitt has have been blessed with good ones in the past. We can look back to Lousaka Polite as a great FB, Henry Hynoski was a bruising player for us and opened up many holes for Dion Lewis and Ray Graham. He ran “like he was angry at the grass” (one of my favorite football quotes of all time). Lately Jaymar Parrish played well there.
So – now onto George Aston. Here is what three years of playing FB in college ball does to a kid:
Its a hard job and it shows.
For the backstory: When Pat Narduzzi was hired as the HC at Pitt he and his 2015 OC Jim Chaney moved Jaymar Parrish over to TE from his previous FB position.
Parrish was Conner’s FB in Conner’s record breaking 2014 year under HC Paul Chryst and then-OC Joe Rudolph. That tandem seemed to work pretty well considering Conner was the 7th leading rusher in the country that season with 1765 yards (5.9 ypc) and 26 TDs.
What wasn’t to like about the combination of those two guys in the backfield at the same time? Obviously the new staff felt it needed to be tweaked. So instead of keeping that team intact they decided to put Parrish into the third TE position – which is pretty much purgatory for an offensive player and then moved walk-on Aston into Parrish’s old spot.
I didn’t get the move then but then I was a Parrish fan. Maybe at 6’2″ and 270 pounds Parrish grew out of the position, although he was 6’2″ and 230 when he came to Pitt out of Gateway HS.
I can’t really say that Aston had any singular success in high school that would put him in a starting FB position at Pitt. In HS he was a decorated linebacker, but then again it isn’t all that unusual for LBs to be moved to FB in college – the build and heavy hitting mindset is about equal in both spots.
And he did play some RB: ” He also played running back and rushed for 898 yards and a team-leading 24 touchdowns…led Sherando to a 13-2 record and the Group 4A state championship game.”
Sherando is a cool name for a high school. Apparently it is a beautiful area and you can go camping and stay in a National Parks’ cabin there smack in the middle of the Blue Ridge mountains. BTW – Staunton, VA is a really nice small town – like walking back 200 years in time.
But I digress… Aston didn’t necessarily care for the switch at first:
When George Aston arrived at Pitt last year, the previous coaching staff decided he was a fullback. “I wasn’t happy at all about it,” he said, noting he played only running back and linebacker at Sherando (Va.) High School.
But he was a walk-on during his first year at Pitt, and he couldn’t say a lot about the move.
“I had to take care of what I control,” he said. “I just worked hard, the coaches believed in me and gave me a chance.
“God’s been looking out for me big-time.”
At any rate God has also spoken and Aston is our FB and I have to say that after reviewing game films I can see exactly why the switch was made. He’s 6’0″ and 245 so his body fits the role… here is how his season went down.
Aston didn’t carry the ball at all in ’15 but did have eight receptions for 40 yards (5.0 ypc) and two TDs on the year. Those TDs kind of came out of nowhere but boy were they fun to watch.
We were sitting at 7-3 overall and 5-1 in conference play when we hosted Louisville at Heinz. That was the game that was going to determine what kind of season we were going to have. Would it be the same old/same old seven win gig that we had before or was that the game that would put us into an eight win season that Pitt hadn’t had in the last five years.
Aston had two TD receptions that game – both were short tosses from Peterman (NP’s 3rd and 4th TD passes of the game) from about the four yard line out to the “Swinging FB” (his new nickname) .
His total that game was 22 yards on three receptions and his other catch, a 14 yarder was on a 3rd and 8 play that gave us a first down and allowed us to burn the last 3:25 seconds off the clock to keep the lead and ensure the win.
So – the one time they dialed up his number he answered the call with good production.
As to his blocking skills; he proved himself out there with flying colors. The one thing I know to be true in college football is that a RB never gets those big yards on his own. Look at #35 leading the way for Ollison in this highlight film. Keep your cursor on the pause button so you can watch some of them over again – he did that well.
I started logging the time stamps of plays where Aston threw great blocks but stopped when I got to four of them in the first 1:59s.
Note: On recruiting…
The Tribune Review’s Jerry DiPaola has these pieces about our two newest members of the class of 2017.
3* OL Gabe Houy has verballed:
Pitt received its second commitment from a WPIAL player Monday night when Upper St. Clair offensive tackle Gabe Houy told coach Pat Narduzzi he plans to enroll next year.
Houy (6-foot-7, 275 pounds) has 11 offers, including five from Power 5 schools Pitt, Louisville, Wake Forest, Illinois and Maryland. He is rated a three-star prospect by Rivals.com.
Upper St. Clair coach Jim Render said Houy, who has been a starter since his sophomore year, has the tools to succeed at the next level as a run and pass blocker.
As has 3* WR Dontavious Butler:
Butler, a three-star prospect who attends American Heritage High School, chose Pitt over offers from N.C. State, Temple, Toledo, Bowling Green, Florida A&M and Florida Atlantic.
American Heritage coach Patrick Surtain, who played cornerback for 11 seasons in the NFL, confirmed the commitment and said Butler, 6-foot-2, 197 pounds, has the tools to succeed at the collegiate level.
“He’s big and physical and snatches the ball,” Surtain said. “He’s a great route runner who gets the ball at the highest point. His best football is ahead of him. He’s going to get stronger. He’s going to get faster. His natural ability is already there.”
I’d kill to hear a HS coach be just plain honest in one of these sound bites. Like this maybe:
“He’s big and physical and snatches the ball,” Surtain said. “He’s a OK route runner who can get the ball at the highest point if he even sees it in the first place. His best football is ahead of him I hope because, quite honestly, he was a pretty average player for us. I hope he’s going to get stronger. He’s needs to get faster and grow balls big enough so that he runs towards the ball instead of away from the safety coming over to cover. . His natural ability is already there but I’m still very surprised Rivals slapped that 3rdstar on him”
Note 2: Here is Matt Canada’s 2015 offense at NC State: