The Rebels enter the Egg Bowl with an 8-3 record and on a three-game win streak. Mississippi State…
The plight of a fullback isn't very glamorous, most of the time. But that doesn't mean he's not appreciated by those within the program. "I get a lot of credit for the way the offense has turned around lately, but it's really everyone," said TB Dexter McCluster. "The offensive line has come on strong, the tight ends are making key blocks, the receivers are blocking great, the passing game has picked up to take pressure off the run and our fullback (Andy Hartmann) has been excellent. "Andy filled some big shoes taking over for Jason Cook this year, but he's been very good. I know earlier in the season we weren't as good when he got hurt." Ole Miss Offensive Coordinator Kent Austin understands Hartmann's value to the unit. "He's had a very good year and is important to the things we want to do with our offense," Austin noted. "Andy's contribution doesn't show up on the stat sheets much but he's doing exactly what we ask him to do and expect him to do." Hartmann's year didn't start the way he wanted it to. An early knee injury cost him a couple of games, most notably the loss to South Carolina, where he and starting TE Gerald Harris both were missed in the run game and in pass protection. Andy said it took him a while to get back in the groove even when the knee was sound. "After I came back, it took me a couple of weeks to really trust the knee and to get used to hitting the same way as before the injury," Hartmann noted. "I was glad when I got back to full strength and speed." Coincidentally, or maybe not, when Hartmann got back on a roll, so did the Rebs. "I think it was in there all the time, but it just took us a while to bring it all out and to put it all together," Andy explained. "Our coaches do a great job of directing us toward getting better and better as the season progresses. "This year, our line needed some time to mature and with me and Gerald out, there were two experienced players that were missing in the chain that could have helped that cause and helped that happen earlier." Andy is glad to see it all come together now. "Our line has gotten a lot better and Dexter and Brandon (Bolden) are making a lot of big plays," Hartmann added. "Both of them are doing a great job. The threat of them in the run game has helped our passing game as well. "Every time Dexter touches the ball, we feel he can go all the way and that motivates us. I know I feel like if I just get a piece of a defender that Dexter is already by me and into the next level. Sometimes it feels like he's by me before I even get on my block," he laughed. Lately, the coaches have been using Bolden and McCluster in the backfield at the same time with Bolden getting some fullback duty in mostly a split-back set. That doesn't bother Hartmann in the least. "Brandon is a great athlete and he's very unselfish. All he wants to do is help the team win and he doesn't care what he's asked to do," Hartmann said. "He gives the fullback position more explosion and the threat of bigger plays. "He's a very committed football player. I've tried to help him with his assignments and things from the fullback position, but he catches on so quickly with everything I don't know how much help I have been." There's still a major place for Hartmann, as was witnessed clearly in the LSU game. Trailing 17-9 late in the second quarter, the Rebs faced a critical 3rd-and-goal, needing a touchdown to get off the field goal train they had been on. The Rebel staff called for a misdirection reverse to WR Jesse Grandy. Most of LSU's defenders went with the flow, but the offside corner stayed at home. It was Andy's job to get a piece of him in the open field and let Grandy cut inside the block for the score. Hartmann, as usual, did his job and Grandy went into the end zone untouched. "He's made a lot of blocks like that," said Austin. "Andy's usually going to get his man. As I said, he's had a very good year so far. His contributions are not lost on the coaches." Hartmann wants to finish the regular season with a bang and enjoy a big bowl, naturally, as his Rebel career winds down. But in the meantime, he's doing exactly what Cook did with him - he's trying to help groom the next Rebel fullback. "If a bigger role at fullback is asked of Brandon, he'd do it and would commit himself to it, but I like what the coaches are doing in trying to get E.J. Epperson ready there," Hartmann noted. "I think he's going to be real good. He has that one characteristic that all fullbacks have to have - you have to be willing to stick your head in there and get after it. That's a good start. "He works hard at it and likes to hit people. The rest will come in time." Being a Floridian, Hartmann, a former walkon, had to be around the program for a year or so to get the full understanding of the Egg Bowl rivalry, but he gets it now. "We have stuck by the concept of the next game being the most important of the season and this one is no different in that regard, but it is Mississippi State and we do have a lot of Mississippi players who are passionate about this game. That rubs off," he ended. "We want to finish up strong and that means beating them to have the kind of year we all want to have." Historically in the game of football, fullbacks don't get the accolades heaped upon the other skill players. They are almost like linemen in that regard. But don't underestimate the value of the fullback in an offensive system that strives for balance. And Andy Hartmann is a good one.
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