There is something different about being a fullback.
Jared Ka’aiohelo played fullback in the NFL and considers it “the most unique position on a football team.”
The fullback must prepare to run with the ball, catch passes out of the backfield, line up in a slot position, understand a variety of offensive motions and formations and – more than anything else – block.
The range of responsibilities comes with little to no glory, which Ka’aiohelo suggests “shapes a player to be the ultimate teammate.” He applauds his fullback brethren, like Michigan State’s Max Rosenthal, who are “a rare commodity.”
“A fullback shows up and does his job.”
When Max Rosenthal and his Michigan State Spartans take the field in the New Era Pinstripes bowl, his job will be clear.
As a prized high school recruit from the Chicagoland area, Rosenthal chose MSU because they play “old school and smash-mouth. That’s the type of football that I like.”
It was the sort of football he played in high school, where “power” was one of the top running plays. When it came time to make a college decision, Rosenthal said “all the [Michigan State] plays really looked familiar and it kind of clicked with me that this is the system I would fit best in, and this was right for me,” and he hasn’t looked back.
Many college programs had interest in the then 6’3″ 228 lb athlete who had scholarship opportunities at Fordham, Bowling Green, and Air Force. The Michigan State coaches wanted him, and he wanted to be a Spartan, but they didn’t initially have a scholarship to offer. That didn’t matter.
Like a typical fullback, he put his head down and got to work – not in the most glamorous direction, but the one he thought was right. Something told him he was meant to be a Spartan.
On Dec. 27, when the Spartans battle Wake Forest in Yankee Stadium, Rosenthal (who has bulked up to 262 lbs) will have only one job: his job. Whatever the team needs. That’s the mindset of the fullback. “Give me a job to do, and I’ll do it as hard as I can.”
Over Max’s career he has done his job well. He has run with the ball, recovered fumbles, blocked (a lot), and recently caught a touchdown pass over rival Michigan.
Before scoring a touchdown in the Big House, Max went through numerous hard-hitting Big Ten football practices against high school All-Americans and future professionals… for free.
In fact, he was paying to be there. Like many non-scholarship athletes, he was doing it for the love of the game. There is incredible purity in that motive. A walk-on is not distracted by big contracts, agents, and glamor… just football.
He was happy for his opportunity to play. But he wasn’t satisfied.
He competed every day – in the weightroom, in individual drills, and on special teams – slowly building the trust and respect of his teammates and coaches. He was winning one-on-one battles against top Spartan players.
During the most difficult off-season training sessions, he refused to “tap out” and was “ready and willing to be pushed in the weight room,” and he knew he could “handle it – just had to be willing to work.”
He had support along the way. His freshman year roommate, Blake Beuter, came in as a walk-on as well. They bonded over football, and their desire to accomplish big goals. When Beuter earned a scholarship during his first year in East Lansing, Rosenthal was encouraged.
“[Beuter] was always supportive. When he got rewarded for his hard work that pushed me even more. I knew it was possible.”
Scholarship or not, Rosenthal stayed consistent.
Another one of his teammates, Kevin Jarvis, was a high school rival back in Illinois. The two routinely squared off with a conference championship on the line. Jarvis knew Rosenthal’s talent, he had already earned his respect. The rivals became friends, and Max notes Jarvis as another source of support during tough practices and training sessions.
That’s what it’s all about: play football and take care of your teammates. Max Rosenthal was a Spartan football player for all the right reasons. And it eventually paid off.
This past offseason, Mike Dantonio offered Max a full-ride scholarship to play football at Michigan State.
“I was ecstatic. Then I was grateful,” he said before acknowledging that his “family has always been there for me. It was a big moment for us all.”
The opportunity doesn’t end on the field. Max Rosenthal is working hard in the classroom as well. The Advertising Management major just earned Academic All-Big Ten honors to compliment an already impressive year.
The Spartans became bowl eligible by beating Maryland at Maryland on Nov. 30. Wake Forest is up next, and the Spartans will be ready.
The team that hoists the Pinstripe Bowl Championship trophy will have done something special. They will have played with humility, toughness, and dedication; they will have played selfless football with relentless effort. They will put team above self and Finish Strong.
They will have played like a fullback.