From pulling trucks to trucking linebackers, FB Nick Ralston relishes throwback role with Cowboys

·5 min read

Life in today’s NFL is tough for a fullback. Once a standard role on every team, the full-time fullback has become a rarity among rosters of the modern era. Never mind that many of the greatest rushers the sport has ever seen are actually being mislabeled today when they’re called running backs. Earl Campbell. John Riggins. Franco Harris. Jim Brown. All were, technically speaking, fullbacks.

These days, though, it’s an unglamorous job that’s viewed as an old-fashioned relic of the way the game used to be once upon a time. Three yards and a cloud of dust and all that. That’s actually the way Cowboys fullback Nick Ralston likes it.

“I think I’m more of a throwback guy,” the 24-year-old undrafted free agent said Thursday in Frisco. “Somebody who’s extremely tough, does the dirty work. I can do some things out of the backfield, but I think the one thing that is one of my best traits is how physical I am, the willingness to run head-first into a linebacker.”

Cowboys fans, of course, are conjuring up mental images of Daryl Johnston as they read that. The tough-as-nails fullback they called “Moose” made a ten-year career out of plowing a road for the league’s all-time leading rusher. The NFL even created a fullback position in the Pro Bowl because of his contributions to the Dallas dynasty of the ’90s. But Ralston was just three years old when Johnston retired from football, so he’s not necessarily trying to step into anybody’s shoes… even though he’s no doubt aware of the best fullback in team history.

“I grew up a Cowboys fan my whole life,” Ralston admitted.

A Texas native, his Argyle high school team played in three state championships during Ralston’s time there. So even though he’s a rookie, he’s no stranger to AT&T Stadium.

“The last time I was in there before this past game [the Cowboys’ preseason game last week versus Houston] was state finals my senior year. Double-overtime loss, and I had 54 carries. That left a bitter taste in my mouth, so to get back there and to be on that field was special for me.”

Ralston was not selected in the 2021 NFL draft. He received phone calls from multiple teams minutes after the draft ended, but chose to sign with Dallas. It was the beginning of a new chapter, coming finally at the conclusion of a rather uncertain one.

“It’s been a long journey,” Ralston explained. “I graduated high school early, went out to Arizona State for four years and ended up grad-transferring my last year to Louisiana-Lafayette and then did well there. And then COVID hit and shut down pro days, so I had to train for another year. To put in all that work for an additional year by myself- every day, six hours in the gym and on the field- to see that I’m here? It’s just a blessing from God, and every day, I’m taking advantage of my opportunity.”

But even if Cowboys fans don’t know Ralston by name, there’s a good chance they’ve seen him. Because he wasn’t only in the gym and on the field during the pandemic.

“I was pulling trucks,” Ralston laughed about his workout that blew up on social media back in 2020. “You didn’t see that video?”

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But Ralston knows it will take more than a viral stunt to survive the final round of roster cuts in Dallas. It will take exceptional special teams play.

“I think that definitely is the key to getting on the 53-man roster,” Ralston said. “I’ve got to be versatile on offense as well as special teams. But I think with my body type and skill set, I can play a lot of different positions on multiple phases.”

Ralston may have a leg up due to fullback Sewo Olonilua’s season-ending injury, but that doesn’t mean he has a foot in the door. The rookie has been leaning heavily on the mentoring he’s been getting from the A-list veteran he shares a backfield with.

“Zeke is so intelligent, and he’s so helpful. I’m just trying to absorb everything from him like a sponge. We’re in the film room, and he’s coaching me up at fullback,” Ralston said of Ezekiel Elliott. “He’s given me tips on run-blocking, creating space, pad level, pass protection. He was coaching me up today on route-running. He’s a special back, and he’s a good guy. He really treats the rookies well.”

In return, Ralston hopes for the chance to do right by Elliott on Sundays, putting his own body on the line to open up holes for the two-time rushing champ.

And the young fullback relishes the opportunity to fulfill that throwback job description… and maybe truck a few opposing defenders in the process.

“I think that’s just something that’s been ingrained in me since I was a young kid doing Oklahoma drills,” Ralston said, grinning as he double-tapped his forehead right where the bumper pad of his helmet would be. “Just put your two screws into their chest and blow them up.”

Nick Ralston’s eyes may have actually twinkled when he said it. Just in case there was any doubt as to whether or not he’s a true fullback.

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