First-year coach Jon Embree told his players when he met with them in December that he was open to discussing position changes if anyone felt they needed a change. He also informed them his offense would rely on a hard-nosed running game and would require a fullback. He sought volunteers to give it try.
Senior linebackers Tyler Ahles and Evan Harrington volunteered and have been preparing for spring as members of the offense this winter. They will be coached by offensive coordinator and running backs coach Eric Bieniemy. Under the old regime, when fullbacks were used in the offense, they were coached by the tight ends coach.
Ahles is the bigger of the two at 6-foot-2, 240 pounds. Harrington is 5-11, 220 pounds.
Why would two veterans who have spent their entire college careers as linebackers opt to switch sides and positions just when they are poised for their best shot a plethora of playing time?
"I had a couple of the coaches come up to me and kind of tell me what they thought about it. They told me it was a good move, and I took that into a lot of consideration," Ahles said. "Then just my experience playing on offense in high school makes it something I'm comfortable with and I like doing. I'm excited to get over there."
This isn't the first time Ahles has worked at fullback in his career in Boulder. Former coach Dan Hawkins went looking for players who could be used in short-yardage situations last year and he gave Ahles and others a shot before deciding to have two for-mer offensive linemen -- Matt Bahr and Scott Fernandez -- switch to the tight end/H-back group. Each earned a few opportunities there during the season.
Embree and his assistant coaches are implementing a West Coast offense in Boulder, beginning this spring and they need true fullbacks to make it effective. Ahles and Harrington both hope to fill the job.
Players have been studying film of what the offense will look like throughout the winter, but last week they had their first meetings with position coaches in advance of spring and are now getting an idea of the new terminology and what the play book will look like.
"I like the mentality of offense, just taking the ball down the field and putting it in the end zone," Ahles said. "I'm excited about getting the ball a little bit, too. Hopefully, I can play a role in that phase."
During his senior year of high school five years ago in San Bernardino, Calif., Ahles played an H-back role and rushed 18 times for 277 yards and two scores. He also caught 18 passes for 312 yards and three touchdowns. There will surely be some rust, but he's confident he can be productive in the new CU offense.
While Ahles had to change numbers from his former No. 58 to No. 47, Harrington was able to keep the No. 49 jersey he was issued when he joined the program last year as a junior college transfer.
Harrington played his high school ball in the Washington D.C., area before traveling all the way across country to play junior college ball in California. He was a high school running back in addition to his linebacker duties. He rushed 93 times for 650 yards and 10 touchdowns during his senior season in 2006.
If Harrington wins the competition, he will obviously be the starting fullback in 2011, but unlike Ahles, he has two years remaining to play his final year of eligibility, which means he might be a candidate to redshirt next fall and be the starting fullback in 2012.
But those decisions are still months away.
Right now, it's all about making the transition, learning the offense and perfecting techniques neither player has used in years.
"We've been running together and competing together at all the workouts, and that's what every position should need is competition," Ahles said. "To have a guy like him out there with me every day is just going to make me better."
Obviously fullbacks and linebackers do a lot of knocking heads and Harrington and Ahles will now be assigned to put some of their closest friends on the team on their butts in practices. There already has been plenty of talk about who is going to do what to whom when practices begin March 11.
Ahles already is known as one of the more vocal players on the field.
"Obviously, I've been playing with those guys, some of them, for four years," Ahles said. "So it's going to be a lot of fun. I have a great relationship with those guys and getting to play against them instead of with them is going to be a lot of fun."