Major Position Changes in College Football History

Ohio State's Braxton Miller is not the first notable player to switch positions during his college career

Numerous sportswriters have analyzed and praised former Ohio State starting quarterback Braxton Miller’s move to H-Back and I can’t blame them. We have never seen a three-year starting signal-caller and Heisman Trophy candidate move to another position in his senior year to make his team — the defending national champion — stronger. Most importantly, he looked pretty impressive in his first game (79 yds. receiving, 61 yds. rushing, 2 TDs) in his new role.

 

Although they don’t receive the exposure of Miller, players switch positions all the time in college football. On rare occasions, the changes are monumental for the team and college football. Here are five of the most significant.

 

Warren Sapp, Miami (1992-94)

The U excelled at taking speedy athletes and bulking them up for new positions on defense. Safeties become linebackers and linebackers became defensive lineman. Sapp may be the greatest example of this approach. A three-sport star who played tight end, linebacker and punter in high school, he was converted to defensive lineman at Miami. Described by his coaches and teammates as having the power of Cortez Kennedy and quickness of Russell Maryland, Sapp wreaked havoc in the middle for the Hurricanes and earned All-American honors and the Lombardi Award in 1994.

 

Marcus Allen, USC (1978-81)

Imagine if USC had taken field in the late '70s and early '80s with a secondary consisting of Ronnie Lott, Dennis Smith, Joey Browner and... Marcus Allen. That could have been the reality since Allen was recruited as a defensive back, but John Robinson quickly decided to move him to running back. After backing up Charles White his freshman year and playing fullback his sophomore year, Allen was moved to tailback. He rushed for 1,563 yards his junior year and then a whopping 2,342 his senior year, which also earned him the Heisman Trophy. In the end, Robinson probably made the right decision.

 

Lawrence Taylor, North Carolina (1977-80)

L.T. was originally recruited as a defensive lineman and played at nose guard and middle linebacker his sophomore year. Then head coach Dick Crum moved him to outside linebacker before his junior year and the rest is history. Taylor piled up 16 sacks in his senior year leading the Tar Heels to an 11-1 record before going on to redefine the outside linebacker position in the NFL.

Dave Casper, Notre Dame (1970-73)

Nicknamed “The Ghost” after Casper the Friendly Ghost, Casper was tried at numerous positions early in his career at Notre Dame. For example, in 1972, he played tackle one week against Michigan State and wide receiver the next week against Pittsburgh. However, Casper settled in at tackle and earned honorable mention All-American honors at the end of the 1972 season. Going into the 1973 season, head coach Ara Parseghian decided to attempt fusing the best of Casper’s skills and moved his star tackle to tight end. The gamble paid off beautifully. Notre Dame went 11-0 and Casper had 19 receptions for 317 yards (keep in mind that this was a different era for tight ends). In the Sugar Bowl against Alabama, Casper caught a 30-yard pass in double coverage to set up a field goal that secured a 24-23 win and a national championship for the Fighting Irish.

 

Jack Tatum, Ohio State (1967-70)

It is ironic that a player known as “The Assassin” who is synonymous with violent hits on opponents was originally recruited as a running back. Early in his freshman year, assistant coach Lou Holtz proposed moving Tatum to defensive back and head coach Woody Hayes agreed. By his sophomore year, Tatum was starting in the defensive backfield and receiving national attention. In his three years as a starter, the Buckeyes went 27-2 and won a national title. Tatum garnered unanimous All-American honors his junior and senior years and became the standard for defensive hits from the secondary.

 

— Written by Aaron Tallent, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Tallent is a writer whose articles have appeared in The Sweet Science, FOX Sports’ Outkick the Coverage, Liberty Island and The Washington Post. Follow him on Twitter at @AaronTallent.

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