Touches mean everything to running backs.
The more touches, the more yards.
The more yards, the more scoring opportunities.
“Give me the ball,” is a commonly heard mantra.
For UC Davis fullback Dalton Turay, touches have come to mean something very different this fall.
A “touch” for this preseason All-Big Sky Conference junior means knocking a cornerback into the Gatorade bucket. A “touch” is opening a running lane by pancaking an opposing linebacker.
You see, Turay — who scored eight touchdowns in 2012 — has a new role.
The 5-foot-10, 220-pounder now serves as 1,000-yard rusher Gabe Manzanares’ point-of-attack pile-driver.
Turay, who has put his hands on the ball only 13 times this year, has become the lead destroyer in this Aggie Navy, helping to ensure that the coast is clear once UCD running backs hit the open ocean.
“Fullback is a position, just like offensive line, where no one ever sees what you do,” UCD head coach Ron Gould explained. “(Dalton) is a glorified lineman … he does all the blocking. The only saving grace is that he’s allowed to go out and catch passes.”
Turay is coming off a season in which he rushed 55 times for 257 yards and seven touchdowns. He also caught 12 passes for another 156 and a score. The eight TDs were an Aggie high.
But UCD has a close-to-the-vest offense now. The locals love keeping possession, a strategy that helps coaches and players wade through this shakedown-cruise of a campaign under first-year coach Gould.
The conservative approach has changed Turay’s responsibility.
“The coaches saw a different vision for me and this team,” said the former Amador Valley (Pleasanton) High two-way standout. “We’re more hard-nosed and I’m a true fullback. I’ve completely embraced that role. I think it’s a good role for me and I’m glad to have it.”
Scroll down the Aggie 2013 rushing stat sheet. There, near the bottom. That’s Turay with his three rushes for 12 yards. He’s a little higher on the passing charts — 11 receptions, 118 yards and a touchdown.
Given those numbers, wouldn’t he trade in some of the wipeout blocks for a couple more touchdowns? What does he prefer: laying out linebackers or crossing the goal line?
“It’s got to be laying out a linebacker, right?” a smiling Turay answered, staying with the company line. “It’s great when Gabe’s got some love … allowing Gabe and other guys to score.”
Manzanares has gotten a lot of “love,” thanks to his fullback’s hard-hat approach.
With one game to go, Manzanares has rushed for 1,163 yards and eight touchdowns. He’s No. 8 on the Aggies’ single-season rushing list.
The City College of San Francisco transfer says Turay has meant “everything.”
“Since I got here, Dalton has taken me under his wing,” Manzanares told The Enterprise. “He’s a great fullback. He’s shown the running backs the way, how to work hard on and off the field. He’s just a leader.
“For me, he’s given me tips on schoolwork … shown me how to get into the groove here at UC Davis. On the field, he’s The Man. I love running behind Dalton. He’ll take on anybody. He’s a great blocker.”
Turay speaks highly of his new friend, too:
“Gabe’s a great guy. He’s probably the hardest worker on the team, puts in all the time and that’s why he’s done so well this season. Gabe was ready to excel.”
One more time: Doesn’t Turay really miss his shots at lugging the ball?
“We have guys this year that can carry the rock a whole lot better than me, so it’s kind of a relief to have guys like Gabe, (Colton) Silveria, Manu (Luuga) and Tavior (Mowry). Plus, the wide receivers are doing a great job (blocking downfield).
“As long as the O-line and tight ends are blocking, those guys are going to get into the end zone.”
Gould says he appreciates what Turay has done for these Aggies and knows the new role might have taken some getting used to.
“He’s meant the world, not only to me, but to this offense,” the coach said of his lead blocker. “He’s a tremendous leader, one of the brightest guys on the field.
“I don’t know what we’d do without Dalton. He understands the game … he works his fanny off in practice and never says a word. It’s always ‘Yes, coach.’ That’s it: ‘Yes, coach.’ ”
Meanwhile, on the field, another would-be tackler bites the dust.
Notes: Turay also played linebacker in high school, where he was an all All-East Bay Athletic League selection in 2009. He rushed for more than 900 yards and eight TDs as a prep senior. His parents are Donna and Matthew Turay and he has two brothers — Cal grad Cole and UCLA grad Chase. His sister Laney attends Cal Poly. Turay is a managerial economics major. … Turay had an eight-yard TD reception in the 30-13 home win over Idaho State on Sept. 28. … Asked what’s the problem with that 4-7 Aggie record, Turay replied “I wouldn’t say there’s a problem. With new coaches and (philosophy) there have been some bumps in the road, but everyone is buying into a strong finish.” To wit, the 34-18 victory over North Dakota on Saturday.
— Reach Bruce Gallaudet at email@example.com or 530-747-8047.