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CAULCRICK BACK TO NATURAL SPOT

Jehuu Caulcrick spent his first collegiate season like so many incoming freshman football players -- redshirted on the defensive practice squad.

The former standout from Clymer who became Western New York's all-time leading rusher was moved from running back to linebacker last year. That's where the incoming Michigan State coaching staff thought Caulcrick could best make a contribution and where he thought he'd be able to play right away.

Then came this fall. Head coach John Smith decided to move Caulcrick back to running back.

"At first, (playing linebacker) was hard to take, but I just wanted to make the best of it and do what was best for the team," Caulcrick said.

And when he was given the chance to switch back to offense?

"It brought a big smile to my face," he said. "That's where I felt natural playing."

He's seemed like a natural on the field, too.

Caulcrick rushed for 94 yards and two touchdowns on 13 carries Saturday as the Spartans trounced No. 19 Minnesota, 51-17. Caulcrick is second on the team in rushing, averaging 66.2 yards a game as the Spartans are 4-3 overall, 3-1 in the Big Ten.

Still, there's that "take one for the team" mentality that Caulcrick employs. It was evident in his willingness to switch to linebacker, and it's evident in the way he talks about his success and the success of the Spartans' running game.

"We heard all about Minnesota's running game coming into (Saturday)," Caulcrick said in Saturday's postgame news conference. "We knew our running game was good, and it motivated us to come out and show everyone. I think that sharing responsibilities with DeAndra (Cobb) and Jason (Teague) keeps me fresh. We think of ourselves as a unit. Whatever is working for the team at that time."

What's working for Caulcrick is a dedication to the game. No longer able to rely on his physical ability to roll over opponents like he did in high school, Caulcrick has had to adjust to a more sophisticated game.

"I do a lot more film study and a lot more studying of the playbook than in high school," Caulcrick said. "In high school, honestly, I just got the ball and ran to that spot. Here you have to read the defenses and know what the linemen and receivers are doing. The biggest part is knowing all that. It's more of a mental adjustment than a physical one."

Adjusting to the advanced level of play is something all college athletes face and one that can be difficult for coaches to remember when the freshman kid is 6-foot, 235 pounds.

"He's developed a better feel for running the ball," said Spartans running backs coach Reggie Mitchell. "He's starting to let his instincts take over. Also with him, he's able to pick up the offense. He's getting to know it better. . . . But as a coach, I have to remember that he's still a freshman. With his size and the skills he has it's easy to forget that he's just two years removed from high school and has only had a spring and fall practice. I'd like to see him become more physical. He needs to play like he's 230 pounds."

CHARTING CAULCRICK
Games: 6
Carries: 76
Yards: 397
Avg: 5.2
TDs: 3

e-mail: amoritz@buffnews.com