Football was a different game when Joe Suhey's father, Matt, was slamming into would-be tacklers as a Penn State running back in the late 1970s.
He always tells me when he was a fullback, it was a fullback-designed offense, Joe said.
That's certainly not the case anymore. The proliferation of spread offenses has turned fullbacks into role-players rather than the every-down fixtures they were 30 years ago. But even though Joe is too young to have enjoyed the glory days of the college fullback, he isn't feeling particularly nostalgic for that bygone era.
I fully accept my role, he said, and I enjoy it.
Joe Suhey followed in his father's footsteps last Saturday by starting Penn State's season opener against Akron. The redshirt sophomore was the recipient of Daryll Clark's first pass of the season, gaining 19 yards on the team's first play from scrimmage. He finished the game with four catches for 40 yards.
Suhey got his first carry on the Nittany Lions' second offensive series, and while he finished the game with only two carries for 4 yards, the experience was bracing. Said Suhey, I just tried to get out there and do what I was asked to do, make the most of my opportunity.
Suhey grew up in the Chicago area, where his family settled after Matt ended a 10-year pro career with the Bears. He said he didn't go into the opener with any preconceptions about how much or how little he would play.
I didn't have any expectations, he said. I tried to really work hard in the off-season, give myself the best chance to get in the game early and put the team in the best situation to win. Being able to get in the game was really exciting.
The 6-foot-1 Suhey has gained some weight since the start of his redshirt freshman season, in which he saw action in all 13 games and carried nine times for 26 yards. He said he weighs about 226 pounds now, up about eight pounds from last year's playing weight. Even so, he's not as bulky as a traditional fullback. Of his recent predecessors, he said he's more reminiscent of the versatile, sure-handed Matt Hahn than the bulldozing Dan Lawlor.
But the connection that most people make is not to those two Nittany Lions but to the other family members who predated Suhey at Penn State. They include not only his father, but his mother (Donna), his great-grandfather (Bob Higgins), his grandfather (Steve), his uncles (Paul and Larry) and a cousin (Kevin).
That remarkable family history is part of what drives Joe to excel. I recognize how big the name is here, he said. I try to uphold the tradition as much as I can.