ANN ARBOR - B.J. Askew has taken one for the team.
It's been very painful and, he thought, would probably leave a big hole in his football future.
The 6-3, 228-pound Michigan senior fullback from Cincinnati feels he's playing the wrong position. He's always had his sights set on being a tailback, where he played last season, but he was switched to fullback this season when regular tailback Chris Perry was healthy and ready to live up to auspicious expectations.
Perry is hobbled again, this time by an ankle injury, and Askew was thrust back to tailback last Saturday against Michigan State.
In an attempt to show his tailback running skills had not tailed off, Askew ran for 149 yards in 32 carries, both career highs. He also scored two touchdowns in UM's 49-3 victory over Michigan State.
Then came the stark reality.
Asked if he enjoyed his return to tailback, even if it was to be fleeting, he said, ``Most definitely. I loved it.”
Then he sighed and added, ``I'll probably be right back at fullback next week. Whatever. We won. That's all that matters.”
According to Michigan coach Lloyd Carr and running-backs coach Fred Jackson, Perry should be ready to assume the tailback responsibilities against the Golden Gophers.
``We're a 100 per cent better football team when we have them both in the backfield,” said Jackson, a former offensive coordinator at the University of Toledo (1979-81). ``The way I look at it, B.J. knows he's doing what's best for him and the team. He's told me that.
``He can be an outstanding blocker, he can catch the ball, he's smart and he can do a lot more in the long run than just run. He's got good speed, game speed. It's deceptive speed. We try to play to his abilities and when he's at fullback we're a better team. When we play with just one back he's the guy and he's a multi-purpose back.”
Askew, who has rushed for 344 yards in 81 attempts, is Michigan's top returning receiver with 26 catches for 257 yards and three touchdowns. He rushed for 902 yards last season and scored 10 touchdowns, but his longest run was only 30 yards, his speed deceptive but somewhat tedious for a tailback.
Last Saturday might have been Askew's last chance to hightail it as a tailback, but it's something he's learned to live with, even accept.
``To get a chance like that, knowing in my heart that I could always be a tailback,” he said, shaking his head from side to side as if his excellent adventure would never be relived. ``This is a moment I'll never forget. To play the way I did, I'm proud of my team and my line.”
His team, and certainly his coaches, are just as proud of him for overcoming a self-centered attitude toward what he thought was best for him and, instead, doing what was best for the team.
``Offensively what B.J. means to this team can't be overestimated,” Michigan coach Lloyd Carr said. ``He was outstanding as a fullback and then Saturday stepped in and did a great job at tailback. As a coach you appreciate a guy who has done what he's done for this team.”
As for Askew's initial reluctance to make the change from tailback to fullback, Carr said,
``That's an individual matter. Some guys are instinctively unselfish and team oriented from the get-go. Other guys have goals that are so important to them they're single-minded.
``I think that's positive. I never had a problem with B.J. wanting to be a tailback. He has great pride in his ability, great dreams, hopes and aspirations. I think B.J.'s willingness, finally, of playing the role we want him to play will be of tremendous significance in the role he will play later in his career.”
Askew said he spent many nights agonizing over his plight, knowing in his heart he could be a smashing tailback.
``I'm not going to do that again,” he vowed. ``I've lived the moment, I loved it, and I'll move on.”
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