Running backs? Check. Wide receivers? Check. Quarterback? Double check.
Tight ends? Tight ends?
One of the major question marks on the BYU football team is the tight end situation.
The Cougar offense has historically thrived off of the play of the tight ends. Dennis Pitta, Johnny Harline, Chad Lewis, Itula Mili, Clay Brown, the list goes on. Although their offensive production the last two seasons has not reached the historic standard, the Cougar tight ends are optimistic.
“I think we’re going to do really well,” sophomore Devin Mahina said. “We have experience. I think it’s going to be a matter of time before we just start doing our thing on the field.”
The Cougars return five tight ends from the 2011 season each with significant experience. Mahina returns this season after redshirting 2011 with a neck injury. Juniors Richard Wilson and Austin Holt will return after knee injuries shortened their 2011 seasons. Holt was a consistent starter and Wilson scored one of BYU’s touchdowns. Junior Kaneakua Friel had a touchdown in the game against Oregon State and played more time after the injuries to the other tight ends. Junior Marcus Mathews started for the Cougars and caught the winning touchdown in the game against Utah State.
This fall the tight ends look to live up to the historic Cougar tradition. That tradition provides an expectation and a standard.
“I never think of it as a motivation, just as a bar that’s been set,” Mathews said. “Nothing’s going to change from that standpoint. I think we’re going to carry on the tradition just as well as Andrew George, Dennis Pitta, Johnny Harline and Daniel Coats did. I honestly think that.”
Mathews has good reason to think that as the tight ends seem to be better than last year.
“I think we’re better as a group,” tight ends coach Lance Reynolds said. “I think they are considerably ahead of where they were a year ago.”
This season, the Cougars could use more offensive production from the tight ends. In 2011, the top six players on the them in total receptions and receiving yards included only one tight end. In 2009, tight ends Pitta and George were two of the top three in those categories and they also had 13 touchdowns between them in comparison to the 3 touchdowns by tight ends in 2011.
The tight ends do not have to look far for a living example from that 2009 campaign. George is on the staff as a graduate assistant.
The health of the tight ends could be an issue, but that remains to be seen.
“The health was a concern with Richard and Austin and Devin, but they all appear to be fine,” Reynolds said. “They’re running around a lot better than I thought they’d be at this point.”
The tight ends look to improve upon 2011 by striving for the standard set by so many past BYU greats. Many of the great clutch plays in the recent history of BYU football have been made by a Cougar tight end. In addition to the miracle catch by Marcus Mathews in last season’s comeback victory against Utah State, there are several others. In 2006, Johnny Harline caught a touchdown pass on his knees in the corner of the end zone against rival Utah as time expired to give the Cougars the win, which has been dubbed by many as “the answered prayer.” Dennis Pitta is the all-time receiving leader in BYU history with 221 receptions.
“We’re hoping that (tradition) continues,” Reynolds said. “We’d like to be heavily involved and relied upon, but to be that you have to make plays and be the right kind of players. So that’s really our challenge.”