By JOHN SHINN
IRVING, Texas — Trey Millard likes everything about being Oklahoma’s fullback. He’ll gleefully collide with any linebacker in college football. Need a tough yard? Millard will gladly lower his shoulder and get it. When a tough catch and run is required, he’s consistently been up the task.
But is it enough to keep Millard at OU for one more season?
“I haven’t really made my decision on that yet,” he said on Monday as the Sooners prepared to meet Texas A&M on Friday in the AT&T Cotton Bowl Classic.
Millard’s case is a very unique case where yards and touchdowns don’t come close to measuring a player’s value. OU’s coaching staff started professing their admiration for him three years ago. First, as a true fullback, and this year he might have been OU’s most dynamic player. He’s played at three positions this season — running back, fullback and tight end — and excelled at all three.
“He’s the most versatile player we’ve ever had here,” offensive coordinator Josh Heupel said. “Jermaine Gresham could play in-line tight end and out in space as a wide receiver. Brody Eldridge could play in-line tight end and fullback. Trey can play running back, he can play fullback and he can play in-line tight end. It’s not who he is, but he can do it and do it pretty well. He’s the first guy I’ve been around who can play three different positions like that.”
For as many options as Millard supplies, the raw offensive numbers don’t seem to add up. He’ll enter Friday’s game with 29 carries, 29 receptions and four touchdowns (all through the air). Cut it any way you want, but it means Millard averaged less than five touches per game this season, despite averaging 8.6 yards every time he touched the ball.
“Everybody likes to carry the ball,” Millard said. “I’d definitely like those opportunities if they came my way.”
Those opportunities could be the difference in Millard returning to OU for his senior season.
However, Millard knows there’s no guarantee of a lengthy pro career. The junior fullback asked the NFL underclassmen committee for a draft grade. Millard said the reply was vague.
“It just comes back in the top three rounds or not in the top three rounds,” he said. “I was not in the top three.”
Fullbacks rarely are. The salary cap era has relegated the position to one where just about all who fill the job make the league minimum salary. And it’s cheaper for teams to grab one out of college every two or three years than pay a five-year veteran more money.
Of course, the ability to play several offensive positions as well as special teams, could make Millard indispensable with NFL teams only having 45 players on their game-day rosters.
“They have to consider the punishment their bodies are taking,” OU wide receiver Kenny Stills said. “Their careers are cut a little bit short than the rest of ours — even though ours are pretty short, too. He’s got a lot of stuff to consider.”
The decision Millard can’t go back on is the one to be fullback. The 6-foot-2, 256-pound junior was going to get a scholarship just about anywhere he wanted to go after his senior at Rock Bridge High School in Columbia, Mo. Most schools saw him as potential linebacker or defensive end.
“It used to be fashionable to play a guy like Trey on the offensive side of the ball,” Heupel said. “More and more of them are playing defense.”
Millard chose OU because they were more than willing to use him as a fullback. It’s too late for Millard to go back on that decision. But what happens against Texas A&M could be telling for Millard’s future. Clearly, he’s no longer just a simple lead blocker or an occasional pass catcher.
There’s nothing else he can really showcase to NFL scouts.
“I’m not going to throw the ball,” Millard said. “Besides that, they’ve put me in a ton of different positions. The only thing they could do would be more of some of the tight end stuff. But that just comes with how our offense rolls. We’ve done a great job of what we’re doing that. There’s no reason to change.”
Millard admitted there’s a lot of factors that push him to return to school. They seem lengthy.
“The degree. Going through my senior year with a class and a group of guys I came in with. Try to win a national championship, win another Big 12 championship. Be one of the few classes to beat Texas four years in a row. Go up and play Notre Dame,” he said. “Those are all reasons to stay.”
But they may not be enough.