After watching hours of summer football camps and almost every football practice last season, I am pretty familiar with the options at each position next season. In regards to replacement tight ends, the cupboard is as full as any program could hope for entering the 2007 season.
Vic So’oto, Jr.
As a four-star recruit, So’oto is the highest profile tight end BYU has ever signed. So’oto has the size and speed to become a very productive tight end and has been a solid practice performer since he arrived in Provo.
So’oto let everyone know what type of player he would be with his very first rep on his first day of practice as a Cougar. In a non-padded session, So’oto was lined up against fellow newcomer Cole Miyahira. As Miyahira went to jam So’oto, the JC safety transfer found himself quickly on his backside. So’oto mowed Miyahira down and sprinted downfield to make an easy reception that would have gone for a big play in a real game situation.
That is Vic So’oto in a nutshell. Weighing in at 6-foot-4 and 235 pounds, he is an extremely aggressive and physical player who loves contact. He is not timid in anything he does. Hardly a practice goes by without So’oto making at least one highlight reel play. He is very competitive and has a nasty streak on the field that helps him out-physical opponents.
So’oto saw the playing time in 2005 almost exclusively in short-yardage, blocking situations when the Cougars used a three tight-end set. After redshirting in 2006, So’oto looks to be the leading candidate at the Y-receciver (tight end) position for the 2007 team and beyond. So’oto has all the goods, now he only needs to prove a little more consistent catching the ball.
More often than not, players play the way they practice. If that is the case for So’oto, then he will be tough to beat as the leading option at tight end.
“Vic is going to be awesome,” said Jonny Harline. “He’s gotten really big and strong, which will help him a lot. He plays with a lot of heart and has some really good hands. He’s going to be really good. He’s just so intense and always makes plays.”
Like So’oto in 2005, Andrew George spent most of the 2006 season blocking as the second or third tight end in short-yardage situations. While George is not as natural of a blocker as So’oto, he improved that aspect of his game as the season went along, and he will be the better for it in 2007. George’s strength is his route-running and his ability to catch most everything thrown his way. While So’oto is easier to compare to Daniel Coats, George draws comparisons to Harline.
George has very good speed – he was probably fastest tight end last season – and great leaping ability. He also has very good size at 6-foot-5 and 240 pounds. From Colorado football powerhouse Cherry Creek High School, George made some of the most outstanding catches of preseason practices. One-handed grabs and diving, laid-out-parallel-to-the-ground catches are the featured items in his repertoire.
During preseason practices George showed great skills in the blue zone thanks to his height, leaping ability, and knack to snatch most anything thrown his way. Both So’oto and George came to BYU with a lot of hype, and the way they have practiced so far indicates that they warranted every bit of it. There is little doubt in my mind that both would have proven very effective last season had they been asked to come in for Harline or Coats.
“Andrew George plays with a lot of heart and really knows what he’s doing out there,” said Harline. “His strength is getting up there, and he has great hands. He’s a very good athlete. Both Vic and George are going to be awesome tight ends.”
Fans already know what former walk-on Dennis Pitta can do. The Moorpark, California product made several key grabs during the 2004 season before leaving on an LDS mission in the Dominican Republic. Two years of preaching the good word did not just help Pitta grow in spirit; he also added an inch or two to his physical stature. While running routes for Cougar quarterbacks during Las Vegas Bowl practices, Pitta looked every bit of 6-foot-6.
It is hard to know how he will match up against So’oto and George until he straps on the pads this spring, but Pitta looks like he will give those two a good run for their money.
On the Way
Last summer, I got to watch what may have been the best group of tight end prospects ever to be recruited by BYU. The talent at tight end was deep and very impressive.
Heading this group were three tight ends, one who has already committed to BYU, one who is likely to commit, and one who readily mentions BYU as his favorite as he finishes his junior year of high school.
Braden Brown has been committed to BYU for a while now and will sign at BYU as arguably the top prospect out of the state of Utah this season. Brown is still being courted heavily by Oregon and other Pac-10 schools, but he will sign with BYU this coming February, giving BYU one of the top tight end prospects in the country.
While Brown was not as polished as some in his route-running, his athleticism was readily apparent. Brown, who is also one of the top basketball players in Utah, is 6-foot-6, 235 pounds and moves surprisingly well for a prospect of his size. In camps last summer, Brown proved to be a prospect who can play at the highest level. He also projecting well at defensive end, but he signed as a tight end. Even if he were to switch positions, he will certainly make an impact at BYU.
Based on performance and ability alone, it was hard to distinguish Mahina from Brown when they were working out alongside each other at a mini-camp last summer. They are both 6-foot-6 and have similar athletic ability. Both heavily recruited by UCLA, Oregon and other Pac-10 schools, and both will likely end up signing with BYU and starring in future seasons.
While Mahina’s vertical leap and forty were a notch below Brown’s, his route-running was a bit more polished. Mahina was the thinner of the two, but he has the frame to support a lot more weight and the lineage to suggest that it is only a matter of time before he bulks up. Both Mahina and Brown appear to be tight end prospects on par with George and So’oto in regards to their ability.
When watching Austin Holt at camps this past summer it easy to forget that he was only a few months removed from his sophomore season. Holt looks like he has been in a D-I program for at least two years by the way he carries himself on and off the field. He is extremely polished for a kid of his age, and his future looks very bright. Holt was named the first team tight end on the All-Combine Team at the recent U.S. Army All-American Bowl. That combine draws the best prospects from around the country.
Holt will be mentioned throughout 2007 as one of the top, if not the top tight end prospect in the nation. He is the type of athlete who could pretty much name the school he wanted to play for and have a scholarship waiting for him there. Fortunately for Cougar fans, BYU heads Holt’s list right now. If he were to end up a Cougar, he would be the top tight end prospect ever to come to Provo. Austin Holt is that good.
There is no need for BYU faithful to worry about who will replace Harline and Coats. The talent is clearly there, and the prospects are bright for a college program that produces some of the best tight ends in the country year in and year out.