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August 13, 2012BYU may be known as "Quarterback U" with the likes of Bosco, McMahon, Young, Detmer and Beck leaving their marks on the college game and the NFL. One thing these quarterbacks all had in common was great receivers to catch the ball, and specifically tight ends who excelled at their position. Names like Trevor Molini, Chad Lewis, Clay Brown, Jonny Harline, Itula Mili, and Dennis Pitta are synonymous with BYU greatness. These pass catchers helped make quarterbacks jobs look easy. A good tight end posses a combination of athleticism and size that helps makes them a match-up nightmare for defenses. When BYU is at their best, the tight end position is an integral part of the offense.
After struggling to get much production from the TE position since the departure of Dennis Pitta and Andrew George in 2009, the Cougar offense is looking to focus on TE play this year, and the Cougar's seem to have the horses capable of carrying the load. Austin Holt, Marcus Mathews, Kaneakua Friel, Richard Wilson and Devin Mahina lead a talented group of TE's who are looking to restore glory to the position in 2012 and beyond.
Austin Holt, Jr
With a surplus of TE's in 2010 the Cougar coaching staff asked Austin Holt if he had considered playing defensive end. Holt refused to switch positions and in 2011 showed everyone why he was considered one of the country's top high school TE's in 2008. A physical blocker on the line of scrimmage, Holt was primarily used as blocking TE early in his career. In 2011, Holt became a big play threat by completing 7 receptions that went for 15+ yards, tops among TE's. Unfortunately a knee injury ended Holt's 2011 season early. Hard work in the rehab center has allowed Holt to be cleared to play for the season. When asked how his knee feels, Holt was quick to let us all know he it feels great. "Right now it feels really good. Being eight months out of football I kinda forgot how to put my pads on, but I feel really good and am happy with it." He will wear a brace during the season, but shouldn't have any other physical restrictions. When asked about personal goals Holt responded, "Personally, I want to get back to where I was last year and even better than that." Holt is the incumbent starter at the TE position and with a solid camp will keep his starting role.
Marcus Mathews, Jr
No other player on the team has made as big a physical transformation over the summer than Mathews. Over the off-season Mathews has gained 30 lbs of lean muscle mass. This increased size has helped make Mathews a more complete TE, not just a flex tight end who comes in during passing situations. Mathews wants to play the traditional, attached TE position more regularly, and his added size shows he is serious about putting in the work. Mathews is an excellent pass catcher. Many people will remember Mathews as the beneficiary of Riley Nelson's game-winning pass during the Utah State game. The pass and reception helped turn around the Cougars season and set in motion the current Cougar squad. Mathews may not supplant Austin Holt as the starting TE, but he will be a very capable second option and should see close to the same number of snaps as Holt this season.
Kaneakua Friel, Jr
Kane Friel saw a lot of action and reps this past spring while other TE's were out with injury. Friel impressed in his limited time with the starters. Friel played well down the stretch last season and finished with 7 rec, 55 yds and 1 TD. While the numbers aren't huge, considering they mostly came in the last few games, it shows he has potential. A decent run blocker and pass catcher, Friel is a prototypical TE who can do a little bit of everything. Friel is currently battling with Richard Wilson for the third TE spot.
Richard Wilson, Jr
The fourth rated TE prospect out of high school in 2009, Richard Wilson has struggled to find his niche at BYU. A great athlete, Wilson contributed as a scout team linebacker his redshirt freshman year. Wilson contributed at TE his next two seasons, but inexperience and injury have slowed down his progress. Wilson suffered a devastating knee injury in the Oregon State game last October. His rehab has been long and slow, but like Austin Holt, he has been cleared to play and looks to contribute right away this season. Wilson hopes his junior season will be his breakout year, and he can fulfill all the potential fans have been waiting to see.
Devin Mahina, So
Devin Mahina has greatly impressed when he has been on the field. Unfortunately for Mahina, his time on the field has been sporadic. After a solid freshman season, Mahina looked like a future star at the crowded TE position. Mahina had the size, blocking ability, and pass catching athleticism that would separate himself from the other freshman battling for time. Going into his sophomore campaign Mahina had a serious neck injury that caused him to redshirt and miss the entire season. After overcoming his neck injury, Mahina was once again making a name for himself in fall camp this season, but a broken hand will sideline him for the rest of camp. Mahina should contribute this season and hopes his all-around game will give him an advantage over some of the other "specialist" TE's.
It is easy to forget that even the Dennis Pitta's and Chad Lewis' of the world were once freshman. The current group of Cougar TE's were young and forced to learn on the job.. They didn't have the advantage of having older guys to sit behind and learn from. Austin Holt addressed the situation when he said, "I think when we were freshman, two years ago, I think we were just out there. We weren't really ready to go. I think last year was better, but this year I expect we will be twice as good as last year." Two years of on the job training has helped this group develop the necessary skills to contribute to the offense. Holt and Mathews should see the majority of snaps, but don't be surprised to see them on the field together. In 2009, Dennis Pitta and Andrew George often played together. Should Holt or Mathews get injured or falter in their progress, there are other capable TE's at BYU who are looking to restore the glory.