Fitz Lassing could be Vanderbilt’s poster boy for versatility.
While at Montgomery Bell Academy, he was a two-year starter at running back and fullback. Plus, he started at linebacker and defensive end. And, oh yeah, he was also the team’s punter.
When he signed with Vanderbilt in February 2010, the Commodores penciled him in as a linebacker. That changed rather quickly last year when, as a true freshman, he shifted positions to aid an injury depleted tight end corps. Though undersized — he was just 6-foot-3 and 220 pounds — he played in 10 games, chipping in on offense and special teams.
When first-year head coach James Franklin brought in a multiple-set offense, he wanted to add a fullback to the backfield — a position the Commodores often went without in their no-huddle, spread attack last fall.
The man for the new job? Fitz Lassing.
“He adds another dimension that maybe we haven’t had here in the past,” Franklin said. “He is a smart guy. Body-type wise he could be a fullback. He could be your second tight end as an H-back. I’m very impressed with him.”
It didn’t take Lassing long to get re-accustomed to playing out of the backfield. On Vanderbilt’s second drive in Saturday’s season-opening 45-14 rout of Elon, he slipped into the open field — with some help from a block by tight end Brandon Barden — and caught a 15-yard touchdown pass from Larry Smith. It was his first career touchdown and just his second catch.
Lassing is expected to get more passes thrown his way as Vanderbilt hosts Connecticut, which is also 1-0, at 6:35 p.m. Saturday (CSS).
“I think they wanted a dynamic fullback and I think that is what he brings to the table,” Barden said.
As a senior at MBA, Lassing totaled 1,417 rushing yards, 212 receiving yards and 21 touchdowns. He also had 92 tackles and averaged 42 yards a punt. He was named the D-II Middle/East Region Player of the Year and received interest from Harvard, Stanford and Vanderbilt. But he settled on the Commodores, who didn’t offer him a scholarship until the night before national signing day.
“When I first was getting recruited, it was actually more for defense than offense,” said Lassing, who is working toward degrees in biological science and medicine, health and society. “They told me when I got here they actually wanted me on offense. I just kind of [did] what they told me to and it worked out pretty good. I can’t complain.”
Lassing's role as fullback at Vanderbilt is a little different than what was expected from him at MBA. In fact, he says it is similar to his role as a tight end last year, it just adds another spot on offense for the Commodores. It also allows coaches to get Lassing on the field as things are crowded at tight end with Barden, Mason Johnston and Austin Monahan providing depth.
He might get some handoffs, but Lassing fits in as an extra run-blocker and receiver. Franklin hopes he can evolve into a “more physical, dominating, intimidating blocker by playing a little lower” with his pads.
Opening up holes is nothing new for Lassing but he does admit it is not the same.
“It is definitely different [blocking] from the backfield than it is from the line of scrimmage,” he said. “The angles are a little different and just like the way you approach all the blocks are different. So it is definitely an adjustment that I’ve had to learn to just play a little different style. I definitely have a lot of work to do. Hopefully there is improvement as the season goes on.”
It wouldn’t be the first time Lassing had to adjust, and it most likely won’t be the last. But he doesn’t seem to mind. He is versatile.
“It definitely helps,” Lassing said. “Like the coaches told me this summer, ‘Learn as much as you can so you have the best possible chance to get out there.’ The more you can do the more you give them a reason to put you in the game.”