Going back over 30 years, outstanding tight end play has gone almost hand-in-hand with outstanding quarterback play for the Brigham Young Cougars. Dennis Pitta caught a touchdown in the most recent Super Bowl, and Gordon Hudson was inducted into the college football hall of fame less than five years ago. However, as BYU fans have waited the last three years for the next great quarterback to emerge, they have also been waiting for the next great tight end to manifest himself.
In 2010, the Cougars had possibly the most star studded group of tight ends the school has ever seen. Austin Holt was a U.S. Army All-American in high school and rated by Scout.com as the no. 5 tight end in the class of 2008. Richard Wilson was rated even higher by ESPN.com (no. 4, class of 2009). Devin Mahina came to BYU after being the nation's no. 11 tight end (Rivals.com) in the class of 2007.
A little bit of a logjam was created since all three of these very highly rated prospects were freshmen that year, but that was supposed to be just a minor speed bump. By season's end surely one, or two, would emerge as the latest in a long line of legendary tight ends.
Mahina finished 2010 with the most receptions by any tight end with just 11. The next year wasn't much better. Holt and Wilson both had 11 receptions in 2011, while wide receiver/tight end hybrid Marcus Mathews had 27 receptions for 299 yards.
For 2012, it was another new name--Kaneakua Friel--that led the team at the tight end position. Although he had over 100 yards receiving and two touchdowns in the season opener, he didn't have a great season. Friel finished with 30 receptions for 308 yards and 5 touchdowns.
Going into 2013, Friel's starting position is in jeopardy. Holt, Wilson, and Mahina are still on the roster, but it isn't one of them threatening to win the starting job. It is Brett Thompson.
Thompson wasn't a star tight end in high school. In fact, he wasn't a tight end at all. He played wide receiver and running back at Oak Ridge High School in El Dorado Hills, California. Thompson played wide receiver for BYU as a freshman in 2009 and redshirted in 2012 following his mission.
Despite having no experience playing tight end, and despite the Cougars' roster being loaded with great high school tight ends, Thompson may be the most likely candidate to join Pitta and Hudson as great BYU tight ends.
Injuries, quarterback play, and offensive coaching issues may have hindered the tight ends from 2010-12. However, many of the great BYU tight ends have something in common with Thompson. They were not tight ends in high school.
Pitta, Clay Brown, Chris Smith, and Chad Lewis are all considered great BYU tight ends, but none of them played tight end until they arrived at BYU.
After playing wide receiver in high school, Pitta walked on at BYU in 2004 as a tight end. By the time he left in 2009, he was a consensus All-American, and rewrote the record books for BYU tight ends.
Clay Brown was a running back in high school. In 1980, he became the first BYU tight end to have 1,000 yards receiving in a single season, and set a school record with 15 receiving touchdowns that year.
Chris Smith was another wide receiver convert. Smith had over 1,000 yards receiving in both 1989 and 1990. He was a two-time All-American.
Like Pitta, Lewis had to walk on to BYU as a tight end after playing wide receiver in high school. With his outstanding leaping ability, Lewis quickly became a fan favorite and playmaker for the Cougars. From 1994-96, he and Itula Mili formed the best tight end tandem in school history.
Pitta is entering the prime of his NFL career and already has over 100 receptions, 1,000 receiving yards, and a Super Bowl championship. Lewis had a long NFL career and finished with 229 receptions, 2,361 yards, 23 touchdowns, and went to three Pro Bowls.
Daniel Coats is another high school wide receiver who switched to tight end at BYU. He was a freshman All-American in 2003, but his overall career wasn't exactly stellar (86 receptions, 966 yards, 9 touchdowns). However, Coats did have a four-year career in the NFL playing in 57 games and starting 18 times.
The fact that Thompson is at the top of the post-spring depth chart is a good sign that BYU could finally have someone fill Pitta's cleats, and add his name to Pitta, Lewis, Smith, and Brown as great BYU tight ends who played a different position during his prep career.
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