USC fullback has backup plan

Brother of famous Coffee seeks niche in return to playing time

semerson@thestate.comMarch 25, 2010 

Matt Coffee is looking forward to playing in a real football game. He should; it's been almost three years since he last put on a uniform.

The USC freshman fullback sat out last season. He enrolled in January in a process called grayshirting.

He did not play as a senior at Fort Walton Beach (Fla.) High School after hurting his knee. The year before, he contracted mononucleosis and played in five games.

When he did play, Coffee's concentration was on defense. He played some tailback, but not nearly as much as his older brother Glen - a former Alabama starting tailback and a third-round pick of the San Francisco 49ers last season.

Matt Coffee moved to fullback at USC, something his brother took note of.

"He kind of teased me about it," Matt Coffee said. "He's pretty much said bottom line is getting on the field and do whatever I have to do."

Glen Coffee was the backup to Frank Gore for the 49ers last season, rushing 83 times for 226 yards. He left Alabama after his junior season, when he rushed for 1,383 yards. His replacement, Mark Ingram, won the Heisman Trophy.

Matt Coffee needs only to look at the man ahead of him on the depth chart to see another player with a famous relative: Senior starting fullback Patrick DiMarco is the nephew of PGA golfer Chris DiMarco.

DiMarco has become a key member of the offense. And with the tailback spot going six-deep, Coffee is content to follow the career path of DiMarco and wait his turn.

"I think I could do something like DiMarco here. I would be happy with that," he said.

To that end, the 5-foot-10 Coffee has added about 15 pounds, after arriving at USC at about 215. Despite his inexperience at fullback, he thinks he is suited for the position.

"I've always had pretty good hands," he said. "And I pass-blocked in high school because we ran the spread."

The problem for Coffee this week has been a strained hamstring, which has limited his practice time. Melvin Ingram, a defensive tackle, has received more reps at fullback than Coffee.

USC running backs coach Jay Graham said Coffee was behind but sounded hopeful.

"I've got to evaluate him. Since we've been in pads, he's been injured. So we got to just get him here, get him in practice," Graham said. "He's really picking up the offense, then we'll see from there."

Reach Emerson at (803) 771-8676.

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