CHURUBUSCO — Though some may have been surprised to see the numbers Churubusco fullback Jake Fulk is putting up this season, longtime followers of the Eagle football program are not.
Fulk comes from a line of football standouts, including his brother, Layne, who was on the team’s most recent regional championship team, and his father, Virgil, who is arguably one of the best athletes who has set foot on the Eagles’ football field. Virgil played a big role on Churubusco’s 1983 state runner-up team.
“I would say Virgil is the best football player we’ve had,” said John Schmidt, who has been part of the Eagles’ football program for decades as both a player and coach, including when Virgil was a player.
On his mother’s side, Fulk’s grandfather, Chuck Jones, was Churubusco’s football coach in the 1970s.
Though the uniforms have changed over the years, all three Fulks have worn the same number — 20.
“My brother wore 20, my dad wore 20, and I did everything I could to get the number. It means a lot to my family and me,” Jake said.
Tallying 163 yards against Fremont on Saturday, Fulk surpassed the 1,000-yard mark, now at 1,054 rushing yards on the season.
The senior wasn’t on the radar of the northeast Indiana football scene before the season started, but quickly made a name for himself as he put up big numbers in the opening games, such as 284 yards against Whitko and 285 yards against Lakeland.
He recorded more in the first two games this season than he did all year in 2018 — 448 yards.
The change is largely due to his change in position from halfback to fullback, something Coach Paul Sade tried out during the postseason last year.
“We moved him to fullback in the playoffs last year and we felt like we could structure the offense differently and put him in a position to carry the ball more,” Churubusco head coach Paul Sade said.
Like his father and brother before him, Jake has a strong work ethic and comes ready to play.
“He’s a very serious competitor — he prepares mentally and physically as good as anyone we have,” Sade said. “He’s very hypercritical of himself, and I don’t mean that in a negative way. He always wants to improve.”
Jake has looked up to his father and brother, and is enjoying his last year as the last Fulk — for now — to take the field. And though he’s catching people’s attention with his rushing yards, he says he not focused on individual success.
“It’s cool, but I’m not into the personal accolades,” Jake said. “As long as we win, I’m fine.”
Like father, like son, as Virgil said he does not remember his statistics from the individual records he held as a running back in the 1980s.
“To be honest, I really don’t know what they were,” Virgil said. “I think they’ve all been broken anyway, which is awesome.”
Even if he did remember, it’s a topic that likely won’t come up in conversation.
“Virgil is the most modest guy. He would never brag,” Schmidt said. “Pound for pound, he’s the best football player we’ve ever had. Right behind him is (Kyle) Monk, (Kyle) Mathewson and (Jordan) Nicodemus, but I’d still say it’s Virgil.”
Football was played differently in the 1980s. Most teams ran the “I” formation.
“Back then it was all smash-mouth football,” Schmidt said. “If you had 150 yards in a game back then, that was amazing. That was old time football.”
Virgil attributed his success to a strong crew in front of him.
“I was rewarded with having seniors in front of me on the line. We had a great team, a very senior-laden team,” Virgil said. “It’s neat to see Jake playing the same position. It’s a different system now with the Wing T offense, but it’s the same position.”
Virgil’s records were not broken until more recently, by players such as Mathewson and Nicodemus.
“From what I hear, he was a pretty good running back, so I look up to him,” Jake said.
Virgil ran for about 1,600 yards as a sophomore, the year the team went to state, after not starting the first two games because the starting spot was held by a senior.
Virgil’s participation on the field made a large difference for the Eagles, who went from 0-10 in 1982 to winning the semi-state in 1983.
Had Virgil played as a freshman — Churubusco may have had a more successful 1982 season — but his father wouldn’t allow it.
Tom Fulk turned down the football coaches, such as head coach Rick Lightfoot, who approached him about allowing his son Virgil to play on the varsity team as a freshman.
“I wanted to play. I thought I would play. But he told the coaches I couldn’t,” Virgil said. “We played in the ACAC (Allen County Athletic Conference) back then. We played Carroll, which was huge, and he didn’t want me getting hurt.”
As a father himself, is Virgil glad his father kept him out his freshman year?
“Not really. I would have loved to play,” Virgil said with a smile. “I was mad he wouldn’t let me, but it may have been for the best, who knows.”
Now, Virgil is enjoying the remaining games of his youngest son’s senior year.
“It’s fun to watch him. It was fun watching Layne as well,” Virgil said.
When Layne was a junior in 2010, the Eagles advanced to the semi-state and finished the season with a 12-2 record. Layne played the running back position some, but excelled on defense as a safety until he was injured his senior year.
The boys’ mother, Jenni has been a part of the Churubusco football scene for a big portion of her life, first as the daughter of former head coach Chuck Jones.
“I was little when my dad was the coach,” Jenni said. “It’s neat for him to come to the games and see his grandsons play. Busco football means so much to him.”
Coach Sade also has connections to the 1983 state runner-up team, as his father, Paul Sade Sr., was a member of that team.
“I’m happy. It’s a unique thing here. We’ve had special family connections over the years. For all of them to come play football is pretty special,” Sade said.