TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Johnathan Vickers cut his teeth by running for touchdowns – not blocking for them.
But midway through his fourth season in Tallahassee, the redshirt junior has embraced a move from running back to fullback, and all of the physical demands that the position requires.
While Jacques Patrick and Cam Akers are grabbing most of the headlines for Florida State’s recent running resurgence – the Seminoles have racked up 580 yards on the ground in their last three games – FSU’s running backs believe that it wouldn’t be possible without Vickers leading the way.
“Fullback doesn’t get a lot of glory,” Patrick said, “but that guy has made a lot of plays for us.”
Case in point, Akers’ 42-yard touchdown run that beat Duke last week.
While Akers rightfully gets credit for bursting through the line of scrimmage, reading the defense and cutting back, against the play, and down the right sideline, the whole thing might never have happened were it not for Vickers.
Take a look at the way Vickers leads Akers through the hole then seals a Duke defender who otherwise might have had a clean shot at a tackle.
“Everybody has a piece of the success,” Vickers said, “Everybody has a job, and that’s what happens when everybody does their job.”
Vickers made a similar play two weeks before, during FSU’s win at Wake Forest.
With the Seminoles backed up to their own 1-yard line, Vickers met a Wake defender at the line of scrimmage and opened just enough of a crease for Patrick to slip through.
Turns out that was all he needed. Patrick then took off for a 69-yard gain and, a few plays later, the Seminoles were on the board with a field goal.
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“I followed Vickers through the hole and I just ran,” Patrick said. “Vickers, he’s a great fullback for us. He makes plays when his name is called.”
Vickers was already a heralded playmaker by the time he arrived at FSU.
A standout at Tallahassee’s North Florida Christian School, Vickers ran for more than 1,500 yards and 22 touchdowns on his way to All-Big Bend Player of the Year honors as a senior.
He also happened to enroll at his hometown school during what might one day be remembered as the best stretch of running backs in FSU history.
During Vickers’ first year, the Seminoles running backs room had talented veterans in Karlos Williams and Mario Pender, as well a freshman Dalvin Cook. In 2015, FSU had lost Williams and Pender but added Patrick. And by then Cook was well on his way to a record-setting career as the Seminoles’ heavily featured running back over the next two years.
That Vickers missed the last eight games of the 2016 season with an injury didn’t help. But he was given a new lease on his career thanks to the departure of Freddie Stevenson, the dependable fullback who served in that role for three years.
The Seminoles may have entered this year with an overstuffed running backs depth chart, but they needed someone to fill Stevenson’s shoes.
And the 6-foot-1, 239-pound Vickers seemed a natural fit.
“It’s more physical than running back, of course,” Vickers said. “(But) I think I adjusted to that pretty well and learned the scheme more. There’s things that you see at fullback that you don’t see at running back.”
Vickers said he studied the likes of Stevenson and Chad Abram, two fullbacks who played understated but important roles on their respective offenses.
And he’s also made it a point to be as passionate and energetic as possible on the practice fields, with the belief that it will translate into good things for FSU’s running backs on Saturdays.
So far, he’s right.
“Johnathan is a great guy and he’s learned that role,” FSU coach Jimbo Fisher said. “(He’s) a complete guy … little (bit of an) unsung hero things in what we’re doing. He sees that’s where his role was, and he got very good at it. He’s being very unselfish and doing a good job.”