Terps full at fullback

Deese, Cesa, Dickerson give running game 1-2-3 blocking punch

College Football


COLLEGE PARK -- Noises eerily similar to growls escaped from the practice field Wednesday as three burly Maryland fullbacks plowed into their teammates.

They stayed low, hunched over as they practiced smashing their shoulders and helmets into the outside number of the opponent's jersey, hoping to drive him back and spring a block for somebody else to make the big play.

Last weekend, somebody did.

In a 22-12 win over Wake Forest on Saturday, fullbacks Ricardo Dickerson, Tim Cesa and Matt Deese were all healthy enough to rotate in the game for the first time this season. Led by Keon Lattimore's career day, Maryland racked up more yards on the ground than they had in the previous two games combined.

And while their physical toughness helped an otherwise flat running game to finally take shape, the three also provided a gritty, smash-mouth attitude the Terps' offense had been missing.

"If sticking my nose in there and taking some blows to the head is what I've got to do to get on the field to contribute, I'm more than happy to do that," said Cesa, who was diagnosed with mononucleosis at the beginning of preseason camp.

Deese, who got his first collegiate action Saturday after undergoing arthroscopic surgery to remove cartilage from his knee in August, said: "If they ask me to come in here and block, I'll come here and put my head through this wall if I can."

Added Dickerson: "Fullback is a dirty position. ... All we're doing is basically sacrificing our bodies for Mario [Merrills], Keon and Lance [Ball] to look good. But I've always been the type of person that I'd rather see other people do well. As long as I have something to do with it, I'm happy."

With Cesa and Deese out for the start of the season, Dickerson carried the load for 15 to 20 plays a game, each play a full-speed collision. He did, with both shoulders. Dickerson sprained his right shoulder, then his left. He said he also is having problems with his trapezoid muscles and has to get a shot just to play each game.

"When it was just 'Cardo by himself, he was getting 20-some plays, and your body gets beat up when you go through a whole week of practice," Deese said. "Now me and Tim are in there to give him a break during the week.

"When they have their starting linebackers in there the whole game, we just continue to wear them down, like we did in Wake Forest," Deese added. "Fourth quarter came, they were just diving at our feet. They didn't want to get hit anymore."

It was in the fourth quarter when Lattimore barreled his way 3 yards into the end zone for the Terps' only offensive touchdown of the game. Deese, a redshirt freshman, is primarily used in short-yardage situations, so he doesn't have to learn the entire offensive package yet.

He went the wrong way on the scoring play Saturday, but Lattimore was still able to score. "I owe Keon one from last week," Deese said with a chuckle. "I owe him six. I'll get it back to him."

Lattimore, who had 76 yards and one touchdown on 15 carries, said all three have given Maryland's running game a boost. The Terps finished with 162 rushing yards Saturday, compared to 56 and 50 in two previous losses.

"It's like our running back situation," said Lattimore, who has been competing with Merrills for the starting job this week. "It's versatile, and we can switch it up a lot. All three of the guys, they go hard, man. When they go up in there, they really pound the opposing players."

All three bring something different to the game. Cesa, a product of a power-I offense at a Class 5A school in Georgia, is probably the most physical of the three. Dickerson said he is the best route runner, and Deese is the only natural fullback, and, at 5 feet 11, has some of the best technique.

Cesa and Dickerson, both former linebackers, approached coach Ralph Friedgen in the offseason and asked to switch to fullback.

"Both of them said they felt we needed a fullback to be good on offense," Friedgen said. "We didn't have a true fullback last year. In the spring, I think they were right. They gave us a hard-nosed dimension we've had in the past. Now they're back healthy and I think it adds a little more toughness to our offense."

The question, remains, though: Who can add the most?

"They really put the competition back in it," Cesa said. "That's what it boils down to. Are three fullbacks going to be playing the rest of the year? I don't think so. Somebody is going to pull ahead. We'll have to wait and see how it all sorts out." heather.dinich@baltsun.com

VIRGINIA @MARYLAND Tomorrow, noon, Ch. 54, 1300 AM, 105.7 FM, Line: Virginia by 3 1/2

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