Hunter Buczkowski redefines fullback role, becomes integral part of offensive attack
On first-and-goal from the Northern Illinois 3-yard line, coach Jim McElwain sent in junior Hunter Buczkowski. He lined up behind the right tackle and was well aware of his responsibility.
The Chippewas also sent in backup quarterback Tommy Lazzaro, who specializes in short yardage situations.
The play was a simple read option.
Lazzaro was required to make a decision based on the action of the defensive end. Buczkowski's job was to make a lane for either Lazzaro or senior running back Jonathan Ward to run through.
The defensive end stayed put, and Buczkowski pulled across the formation, making the pivotal block that allowed Lazzaro to trot into the end zone.
It's just one of many moments that have shown the importance of Buczkowski to Central Michigan's revamped offensive attack. The physical presence he provides has helped to revive the running game. His position is as important as any other on the field.
However, it didn't always seem that way.
Building a role
Throughout fall camp and into the early part of the season, it was assumed that Buczkowski and fellow junior fullback Oakley Lavallii would likely be making a position change given the scheme change that came with the coaching switch.
"When I got here, I didn't know what the purpose was for a fullback," McElwain said before the Week 2 contest against Wisconsin.
That didn't phase Buczkowski, who continued to grind. He never lost playing time, but was prepared for a role change.
Then, the offense broke out.
In a 42-16 win over Eastern Michigan, the Chippewas gained 6.8 yards per carry en route to a 308 yard team performance on the ground. One of the main factors in that performance was Buczkowski, who constantly paved a way for Ward and sophomore Kobe Lewis to run.
"They're great running backs," Buczkowski said. "You don't have to make that big of a hole with those two running backs behind you."
Buczkowski became a regular within the offensive system and a staple in the run game. However, in a 42-28 homecoming victory over New Mexico State, a defender rolled up on him and he suffered a sprained ankle.
The injury would cause him to miss two games, a 38-21 win over Bowling Green and an ugly 43-20 loss to Buffalo. Buczkowski knew it wouldn't be a season ending injury, so he spent the majority of his time off strengthening himself both physically and mentally in preparation for his impending return.
"Going to the weight room while the guys were at practice, you know, just getting better in that aspect," he said. "Getting stronger, both with the injury and in the weight room."
He made his return in the 48-10 victory over the Huskies. The Mount Pleasant native returned to the field and made many key blocks in the win, including the play that led to Lazzaro's touchdown.
"I thought Butch did some good things today," McElwain said after the game. "It won't show up in the box score, but he did some good things."
In his first year with the Chippewas, McElwain has built his program on doing all the small things correctly.
Buczkowski exemplifies a player who has bought in.
"As a fullback, you're a hard nose player putting your face in the fan, really trying to drive people back," Buczkowski said. "Just forcing guys out and opening up the holes for other people."
As a native of Mount Pleasant, Buczkowski is affectionately known as "townie" within the locker room. He is popular within the community and relishes the support his home town has shown him.
His brother is also a Chippewa.
Logan Buczkowski is a junior right-handed pitcher on Central Michigan's baseball team. He has a career 5-1 record with a 5.58 ERA.
Hunter always makes sure to check in on him. He'll drop in when the baseball team is in the weight room to make sure Logan is doing the correct workouts, and he is always up to grab a glove and sling the ball around in the Turf Bay.
"Definitely a good relationship," Hunter said.
Buczkowski has never taken a handoff for the Chippewas, and he's caught just two passes. However, he's as integral a part as anyone else within the Central Michigan offense.
He's shouldered his role, put his face in the fan, and blocked the guy ahead of him.
Every single play.
McElwain smiled and chuckled when asked about Buczkowski.
"The things that don't show up in the box score are the things that really make it happen," McElwain said. "To have him back, he does a great job doing the things that don't necessarily show up.
"Having him out there has been really good."