Southern fullback Brian McCain is a fifth-year senior, so he can see the end of his college career closing in.
He missed all of last season with a broken foot, and that absence made his heart grow even fonder of the game.
Recently he looked around the practice field and saw the deepest, most talented groups of running backs the Jaguars have had in recent memory.
Then he went to talk to coach Dawson Odums last week.
“He said, ‘We’ve got a lot of running backs, and I may not get as many carries as I would like over there,’ ” Odums recalled before practice Monday. “He asked me where I thought he could help the team at, and I gave him my opinion.
“He and I talked about it. He’s a fifth-year senior and he wants to play. I told him we’d try him on defense because we’re down some guys over there.”
Specifically, Southern is down two Sam (strong-side) linebackers because two seniors — longtime starter Daniel Brown and experienced backup Detrane Lindsey — are academically ineligible.
So last Tuesday, McCain went from being a fullback to a fullback/linebacker. Four days later. he was playing on both sides of the ball — as well as multiple special teams — in Southern’s 56-14 victory against Central Methodist
“He’s one of our better football players,” Odums said. “It’s my job as coach to find ways to get guys with that kind of work ethic on the field. There’s no rules that says you can only play one way. I’m an old-school coach, and I’m going to play anybody who can help us on either side of the football — or both.”
McCain had just four carries for 5 yards, though one carry was a 1-yard touchdown, against Central Methodist. On defense, he played 14 snaps but didn’t record a tackle.
“We want him to crawl before he walks,” linebackers coach Lorick Atkinson said. “He came in and did a pretty good job for us. We expect him to have a little bit more impact this week, hopefully, once he understands a little but more where’s he going.
“He didn’t have much time and we didn’t expect much out of him, but what he did give us was great effort. You could see why he’s a football player and why these kids voted him a captain. They respect him, and he elevates both sides of the ball, no doubt.”
McCain practiced on both sides Monday, taking off his blue jersey and switching to white when it was time to stop being a fullback and start being a linebacker, a position he played in high school in Chicago.
“Whatever Coach asks, I’m there,” McCain said. “I’m all about the greater good. I’m a team player and wherever I can help the team. I have no problem with that.
“We needed some help at linebacker, so there were no questions asked. I didn’t give it a second thought. If the team needs help, you have to be accountable. You’re responsible for anything that goes on with the team. If something is broke and you feel you have any means to help, you jump on it.”
The Jaguars’ primary Sam linebackers in the first two games have been Dorsey Bindon, a redshirt junior who had not played before this season, and freshman Aaron Tiller.
“As we start to get into the meat of the schedule,” Atkinson said, “we’re looking for a little more production from that Sam backer.”
McCain is still Southern’s No. 1 fullback, but his primary role there is as a blocker. Two running backs — Malcolm Crockett and Tyre Bracken — both rushed for more than 100 yards last week, and two others — Jamarcus Jarvis and Lenard Tillery — figure to touch the ball more than McCain. Jarvis had seven carries for 24 yards and two touchdowns, and Tillery eight carries for 37 yards and a touchdown Saturday.
“He’s still going to have his role on offense with some of the two-back stuff that we do,” Atkinson said, “but we are more of a one-back offense.”
After two weeks, Crockett has 21 carries, Bracken 18, Tillery 14, Jarvis 10 and McCain four. Soon McCain figures to have some tackle stats to go with those carries.
“He’s accepted that (dual) role,” Odums said, “and he’s going to be a contributing factor (on defense) before it’s all said and done. He’s a great young man with great character, and we’re benefiting from him being over here.”
Follow Les East on Twitter @EastAdvocate.