Stanford’s Marecic does double duty at FB and LB
STANFORD – Owen Marecic has spent most of his career at Stanford in his preferred spot in the background as the ultimate supporting player.
The player who helped clear the way as a punishing blocking fullback for Toby Gerhart to become the Heisman Trophy runner-up a year ago needed just 13 seconds to vault himself into the spotlight for Stanford this season.
By running for a 1-yard touchdown and then returning an interception 20 yards for a score on the next play from scrimmage in last week’s 37-14 win at Notre Dame, Marecic achieved a feat that almost no one else in college football is even willing to try.
“I’m just playing football, that’s why we are all here and doing whatever we can to help the team win,” Marecic said. “I’m fortunate to even be on the field at all, offense, defense, or special teams. I am very grateful to have the opportunity to help out the team wherever I can. I’ve been an offensive guy for a few years and now actually being on defense for the big plays on the field gives me a little extra juice. I just get in the rhythm of the game and play ball.”
Marecic is believed to be the only Football Bowl Subdivision player to start on both sides of the ball this season, playing fullback for the fourth-highest scoring offense in the country and middle linebacker for the 11th-ranked defense.
He’s one of the big reasons why the ninth-ranked Cardinal (4-0, 1-0 Pac-10) have their highest ranking since 1992 heading into Saturday’s showdown at No. 4 Oregon (4-0, 1-0).
Marecic scored his first touchdown last week with a 1-yard run midway through the fourth quarter. On the next play from scrimmage, Marecic intercepted a pass from Dayne Crist and returned it for another touchdown just 13 seconds later.
The last player to have touchdowns on both sides of the ball in the same game was Utah’s Eric Weddle in 2006 against San Diego State.
Typical of Marecic, he praised running back Stepfan Taylor for getting the Cardinal in position to score the first TD and the defensive line for the pressure that caused the interception on the second.
“I didn’t really realize it was back-to-back or anything,” Marecic said. “I was just excited we could get some points on the board at a pretty critical time of the game.”
Marecic is an Oregon native who was one of the top high school football players in the state at Jesuit High School in Portland. He was the defensive player of the year his senior year and also a second-team all-state running back.
But neither Oregon nor Oregon State even offered Marecic a scholarship, as most teams have little use for a blocking fullback in today’s era of spread football.
Stanford is a school that still uses a fullback as a big part of its offense. Marecic has been a four-year starter for the Cardinal, where his punishing blocks helped Gerhart lead the nation in rushing a year ago.
But with depth a problem at Stanford, Marecic stepped in for injured starting linebacker Clinton Snyder against Oregon a year ago, beginning his journey as a two-way player. He played mostly in goal-line and short-yardage situations last year but has been the starter all this season.
He splits time at both sides of practices and makes up for the lost time by being one of the biggest film junkies on the team. He says having a full spring ball and training camp working at linebacker with a new defensive coordinator has helped his progress on that side of the ball.
“He’s come a long way,” fellow linebacker Shayne Skov said. “He immerses himself in his work so much and he’s so dedicated. Anything he does, if he’s given the right amount of time, he’ll excel at it.”
What once was commonplace before platoon football took over and players became specialists is now as foreign as the leather helmets the old great two-way players used to wear.
There have been a few examples of players excelling on both sides of the ball since then, with players like Gordie Lockbaum of Holy Cross in the 1980s, Heisman Trophy winner Charles Woodson at Michigan and Champ Bailey at Georgia in the ’90s, and Ohio State’s Chris Gamble in the 2000s.
But those players spent much of their time on the perimeter of the field instead of being involved in head-on collisions on most plays.
“It’s uncharted waters. Nobody’s doing it except for him,” coach Jim Harbaugh said. “I think the biggest thing is that he’s playing the two most physical positions in the game of football: fullback and middle linebacker. Just got to take your hat off to him and enjoy watching it, because I sure do.”
Harbaugh especially enjoyed watching the film against Notre Dame and it wasn’t the two touchdowns that caught his eye. He was almost always in the right spot defensively, leading to a couple of pass breakups of his own and sacks for teammates. He’s a sure tackler, getting more comfortable each game defensively.
But it is on offense where Marecic’s future will be as a punishing blocker who helps make Stanford’s isolation and power running game so successful. Harbaugh said Marecic didn’t miss a single blocking assignment against Notre Dame.
Marecic so discouraged the Irish defenders that Harbaugh said the linebackers stopped trying to take him on one-on-one in the second half, choosing to cut out his legs instead even if it meant they weren’t in position to make a tackle.
Harbaugh said he spends hours as an offensive coordinator trying to devise schemes where one of his blockers can eliminate a defender and Notre Dame gave it to him each time instead of challenging Marecic.
“Linebacker-fullback on an iso block, that’s usually like two coconuts that are hitting,” Harbaugh said, smashing his fists together for emphasis. “That linebacker is going to try to at least get a stalemate in the hole and see where the ball is and maybe disengage and make a tackle.
“In the second half, their linebacker was trying to cut Owen at the knees and Owen goes over the top of him. It’s a one-for-one give up. You’re saying as a defender I’m going to sacrifice me for you. … That’s the ultimate compliment you can give a fullback, to try to cut him. That’s what was taking place.”