The running back position became a bit less crowded this week at the University of Utah when fullback Martel Black told Coach Jim Fassel he was quitting the team.
Black, a 235-pound fullback, said last Friday that he was quitting football. Utah began its spring drills Saturday afternoon."Evidently he's not going to play," said Fassel. "We talked about some things he would need to do in the spring and I felt good about it. The next thing I know he doesn't want to play."
Fassel said there has been no indication that Black will transfer to another school. "I talked to his mother and she told him to stay up here and stay in school this quarter," said the coach.
The problem with Black isn't a new one. Though he is one of the few true fullbacks the Utes have had, and showed vast potential last season, he presented his share of problems. Black was in the doghouse several times for being late for practice and his playing time was reduced because of his unfamiliarity with Utah's offense. Nevertheless, he rushed for 520 yards on 101 carries to lead the team.
With Black gone the Utes still have all-WAC player Eddie Johnson and converted quarterback Bryan Bero returning from injury redshirt years, along with promising back Clifton Smith. Johnson won't be ready to go until fall. Molonai Hola, a fullback last year, could also be used, but is practicing as a linebacker this spring.
Rod Wells, a freshman last year, has decided go on an LDS mission.
Regardless of the apparent depth at running back, the Utes will miss Black, who would have been a junior. "We've never had one like Martel," said offensive backfield coach Wayne McQuivey last year. "Never. There's not many kids in the world like him."
Black reportedly told teammates and coaches he was not going home for spring break, and that he would stay in Utah to prepare for spring drills. "Next thing I know he had gone home and said he didn't want to play," said Fassel.
Black is still in school, leaving open the door to a possible return. Fassel said Black must prove he is willing to dedicate himself enough to return to the team.
In other important moves, the NCAA has granted another season's eligibility to SMU transfer tight end Vince Jenkins, who was out all last year with an ankle injury. Also, onetime starting defensive back Eric Wheelright, who quit the team last year, has returned and is working out with the team.