NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Finding production out of tight ends in college football is always a challenge, but for Tennessee State it’s no problem finding big plays out of their unit.
This season, the tight group has totaled 544 yards with eight touchdowns. As a whole, this unit has been pivotal to the success of not only the offense but the team as a whole.
“After Jacksonville State, we kind of nicknamed ourselves the Tight End University, and to have the numbers to back it up makes us feel even more like ‘Tight End U,’” sophomore Joe Bowens said.
In the Jacksonville State game Bowens is referring to, the tight ends scored three of TSU's four touchdowns. A.C. Leonard led all receivers with five receptions with one touchdown and Wesley Samuels finished second on the team with 3 receptions for 37 yards and two touchdowns.
“It’s good to have a big target you can go to down in the redzone and I think those guys are great targets,” coach Rod Reed said of his unit.
Which is exactly what the group strives to be, especially in the redzone and on third down.
“That’s what we work for - to be the first target for the quarterback,” said All-American A.C. Leonard. “ It’s great to have a lot of passes thrown our way, and hopefully that will continue and we keep making plays.”
The group has been a huge part of the offensive turnaround; after the first three games the group had totaled just 109 receiving yards. During the three game span TSU averaged 20.7 points per game and was aided by strong defensive and special teams play.
In the weeks following, the tight end unit came alive, totaling 436 yard in four games along with eight touchdowns, for an average of 109 receiving yards and two touchdowns per game.
With the jump in tight end production, Tennessee State has seen a boost in the offense’s point totals. Big Blue is averaging 46.3 points in its last four contests, more than double the average from the first three games.
On the year, Leonard leads all pass catchers with 27 receptions for 378 yards and five touchdowns. Samuels ranks fourth on the team, compiling 128 yards with three touchdowns. Bowens has battled injuries this season but to show how dangerous the unit really is, as a freshman Bowens tallied 348 yards receiving with two touchdowns.
During the 2011 season, the unit’s total weren’t where they’re at right now. That year the unit totaled just 16 receptions for 164 yards and just a single touchdown. A year later, with the arrival of dynamic tight ends Leonard and Bowens, paired up with Samuels provided TSU with one of the best years out of a tight end group.
The offensive production from tight ends went from 6.3% of the total receiving yards in coming from the position to 41.7% a season later.
Behind the scenes the transition off the field wasn’t as smooth. Samuels was coming into his junior year in which he believed he would see a bump in playing time and production, but with the arrival of Leonard and Bowens the playing time was spread out.
“Last year was rocky but we’ve grown together,” said Samuels on the transition the group made from competitors to a unit.
“We all feel that we are equally talented so we all want to be on the field, and rightfully so,” Bowens added on the dynamic in the group. “When we all just accepted our roles, and did what was best for the team it made it really easy to coexist and made us more successful.”
Instead of competing with each other, now the unit competes against their fellow pass catchers.
“The receivers say they’re the best but the tight ends, we say we have the best core,” Samuels said. “We have eight touchdowns and they have nine, but we’re going to catch them.”
If the group continues to make catches in the process coach Reed will be happy, as for the nickname, “Tight End U?”
“Hopefully it’ll get us some more recruits to come in here,” coach Reed said with a laugh.