Between 1995 and 2007, players the Texas Longhorn football team produced at tight end included the following: two-time All-American Pat FItzgerald, Bo Scaife, David Thomas, and Jermichael Finley, the latter three of whom have all had productive NFL careers. This run of success at the position came to a crashing halt when Jermichael Finley left school early and declared for the NFL draft following the 2007 season. A curse was cast on the tight end position at Texas at that time, and in the four years since then it has seen a widely-documented mess of injuries, bad grades, failed position switches, one-dimensional players, and no all-conference prospects in sight.
Blaine Irby's devastating knee injury occurred three games into the 2008 season. The UT careers of Josh Marshall (a converted wide receiver), Dominique Jones (recruited at defensive end, but played tight end in high school), Ian Harris, and Ahmard Howard produced a total of 5 receptions (4 by Howard). Going into his senior season, Barrett Matthews (Rivals' 7th ranked TE in the 2009 class) has played in 38 games and caught 12 passes. Trey Graham (ranked 2 spots behind Matthews in that same class) is going into his 4th year on campus and because of various injuries he has yet to appear in a game. Irby miraculously returned and played with the team in the 2011 season, but he was a shell of his pre-injury self. Even former Longhorn tight ends haven't escaped the curse. David Thomas missed eleven games of the 2011 NFL season due to concussions, and Finley himself had a knee injury that ended his 2010 season five games in.
There is some hope that the curse could soon be broken. 2011 signee M.J. McFarland has looked promising and seems to have the most potential of anyone on the current roster to become a complete tight end. D.J. Grant made some plays as a receiver in 2011, and the invaluable LonghornScott at Barking Carnival has been impressed with Darius Terrell at Spring practice. But along with those positives is the fact that Grant and Matthews will be seniors and the team could potentially go into the 2013 season with only two tight ends on the roster with any meaningful game experience.
Long story short (too late!), the Longhorns need an impact player at tight end in the worst way, or failing that, they need to overhaul that part of the roster through recruiting and attrition so they won't have to rely on former receivers who can't block consistently, or converted defensive ends and offensive linemen who aren't threats in the passing game.
With Thursday's commitment from Belton tight end Durham Smythe, the program took a huge step in that direction, getting a player with Stanford-level brains who resembles a Rob Gronkowski starter kit. 2013 commit Ricky Seals-Jones, a five-star athlete recruited as a receiver, could eventually end up at tight end as well, but that is far from a certainty. As such, it is believed that the staff wants to have another tight end in the class come National Signing Day in 2013. Two tight end prospects are known to be on the staff's radar, and other options will no doubt be evaluated as the year rolls along.
After the jump I'll discuss eight top in-state tight end prospects and, this being my first post, give a brief word of introduction. It's the only brief thing about this post, really.
A few weeks ago I was offered the chance to write for BON, so here I am. I'm a lifelong UT fan and have been an avid reader of this site since 2010 and have a lot of admiration and respect for the work being done here to follow and keep readers informed on all things UT athletics. I'll do my best not to screw things up with my presence. I'm based in the Metroplex and I'll be chiming in from time to time on football and recruiting matters, which will hopefully include an in-person report or two on games involving Longhorn commits. Now on with the post.
The One Everyone Wishes Texas Would Offer
Christian Morgan - Prestonwood Christian Academy (Plano)
Size: 6'4"-6'5", 235-250 lbs., depending on the source
Junior year stats: 16 receptions, 226 yards (14.1 ypc), 1 touchdown
Highlight videos: Hudl, 247Sports (2 games from junior year)
Billfromlaketravis watched Morgan play in person last October and the report he wrote about him pretty much matches the impressions one gets from watching his highlight film. You don't have to watch him for more than a play or two to see that he absolutely looks the part of a college tight end. On his junior highlights he is mostly shown lining up in the slot or flex, and occasionally at H-back, in addition to his work at defensive end. His junior highlights don't show many clips of him blocking or plays where he lines up next to the tackle, but any fears about his blocking ability as a tight end should be allayed by viewing highlights from his sophomore season, in which he played left tackle and looked more than able in that role.
If the Texas staff is seeking tight ends who can catch and block, Morgan would seem to be the most obvious in-state candidate, but he was not invited in for either junior day last month and for whatever reason there just seems to be a lack of interest, either on his part or on that of the Texas staff, if not both. He looks like a top-flight tight end but some schools may want him instead as a strongside defensive end. Regardless, he'll be playing somewhere when the 2013 college football season rolls around, as he has an offer list that rivals Smythe's, with 247Sports suggesting that he most favors Arkansas and Baylor.
The Two Leading Candidates
Gaines, like many of the top tight end recruits in the class, lines up primarily on the outside as a receiver, and sometimes in a flex position. He shows good hands and with his size he creates mismatches in the passing game and has the speed (somewhere in the 4.6-4.7 range) to run away from a lot of high school defensive backs. There are few highlights that show him blocking and none with him lining up with a hand on the ground. He definitely has the receiving skills and speed to be a difference-maker in the passing game, be it at tight end or H-back, but he'll probably only get a UT offer if the staff is confident in his blocking abilities, which are more of an unknown at this point.
His only offers thus far are from TCU and North Texas, and he has attended junior days at Baylor, A&M, Texas, and Oklahoma. Before he was a tight end prospect he played linebacker at the varsity level as a freshman and sophomore, recording 87 tackles in the 2010 season. If Gaines signs with TCU (a program known for recruiting speed guys and plugging them in wherever they can best help the team) I wouldn't be at all surprised if Gary Patterson gives him a look at linebacker or rush end.
Typsy Gypsie at Recruitocosm had a good post about Gow in November. He was a teammate of 2012 signee Hassan Ridgeway and reportedly impressed Texas coaches with his blocking work when they observed him in practices. Mansfield features a very run-heavy power-I offense, so most of Gow's highlights show him run blocking, and all of the clips that I saw showed him actually lining up next to the tackle with a hand on the ground (imagine that!) He shows good run blocking ability and effort while playing in an offense where he is essentially used as an extra lineman most of the time. When involved in passing plays he shows good hands, though he doesn't run the most crisp of routes. Gow is a very solid tight end; he's a very good blocker and at everything else he's better than average but not really exceptional. In short, he's an easy prospect to like but whose long-term upside may not be as high as some other 2013 tight ends.
He grew up a fan of the Longhorns and would likely jump if offered. With the recruiting mindset shown by Texas in past years that fact alone (plus the dire need at his position) might have made him one of the first offers of the class. He would definitely be a safe choice for the class's 2nd tight end offer, but the Texas staff's recruiting philosophy - as seen in 2012 - has been more about exercising patience and evaluating all options instead of impulsively making "safe choices" (which too often can mean "lazy choices") when extending offers at need positions.
Gow attended Texas' 2nd Junior Day and has also visited Iowa State, Oklahoma State, and Tulsa in the past month, but currently reports no offers. Texas can afford to wait on Gow because even if he commits elsewhere he seems like a guy who could be flipped later if the coaches decide he's their best remaining tight end option after all, or if they offer but lose out on someone they like better.
Charlie Reid - All Saints Episcopal (Fort Worth)
Size: 6'4" and 225 lbs.
Junior year stats: 41 receptions, 650 yards (15.9 ypc), 5 touchdowns
Highlight videos: 247Sports, National Underclassmen Combine (shot before or during his sophomore year)
For Reid's evaluation I thought about just typing "see: Jeremiah Gaines", as they have similar blends of size and speed and are used more as receivers than traditional tight ends by their respective teams. Reid looks a little faster than Gaines but is not as athletic, and the difference in speed might disappear if Reid were carrying the same weight Gaines has. Reid's school competes in Division II of the Southwest Preparatory Conference (SPC), and in his highlights he looks fast enough to outrun and tall enough to outjump most defenders who attempt to cover him. And it certainly helped him that his team's quarterback was 2012 UCLA signee T.J. Millweard.
Rivals lists his 40-yard-dash time at 4.58, 247Sports at 4.65. From watching his highlights I would buy that he has speed in that range. At the 0:12 mark of this highlight video he lines up in the slot, runs a simple slant route, finds some open space and catches the pass, then outruns the entire Brownwood secondary (which probably included 2012 UT signee Kevin Vaccaro) to the end zone for an 88-yard touchdown. On three other plays (the very first one, at 0:50, and at 0:57) he is thrown a jump ball in the corner of the end zone and simply out-leaps his defender for the touchdown, making a nice one-handed grab to do so on the last of those three. In other clips he can be seen running drag routes, curl routes, wheel routes, and a fly route. He runs them all pretty well but will need to be smoother getting in and out of his breaks when facing collegiate defenders. He isn't shown doing much blocking, and when he is he appears to be blocking defensive backs and not linebackers or defensive ends.
He is a good-looking prospect for a flex receiver or H-back role, but will need to bulk up to play in a traditional tight end role. He has offers from Arizona, Ole Miss, Mississippi State, UConn, and TCU. Scout says he's also been offered by North Carolina, but none of the other sites even list him having interest from that school. He has visits scheduled next week at Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, and Rice's Junior Day. The headline of a paywalled article on Scout referred to TCU as Reid's "dream school".
Corey Manges - Rowlett
Size: 6'5" and 215 lbs.
Junior year stats: 16 receptions, 194 yards (12.1 ypc), 2 touchdowns
Highlight videos: Hudl, NCSA
Manges is almost unknown in recruiting circles, at least if the attention he gets from the major recruiting sites is any indication. Part of this lack of attention may be caused by confusion on the spelling of his name (more on that in a moment). As of this writing Rivals doesn't have a page for him, neither does ESPN's Recruiting Nation, and while Scout does have a page it lists no stories on him. 247Sports, the only site that seems to have seen any tape on him, grades him as a 3-star player and ranks him as the 85th best player in Texas and 20th best tight end prospect in the nation.
Manges is an unusually conventional player (compared to others mentioned here) in that he has the frame of a wide receiver but lines up next to the tackle on the line, whereas Durham Smythe, Christian Morgan, Jeremiah Gaines, and Charlie Reid do their damage from the a slot or flex position. He has 4.7 speed in the 40 and runs hard after making the catch. He doesn't appear to have a lot of muscle right now but he's got a good frame to build on. High school wide receivers who convert to tight end in college often lack the technique and/or the stomach (literally and figuratively) for blocking linebackers and defensive ends. Manges has the body of a receiver but gives maximum effort on his blocks, and though he's still fairly thin and doesn't have the strength of a mauler he still puts a fair number of defenders on their back. One thing he does particularly well when receiving is get separation from linebackers by selling the block on play action before breaking open on out routes, an under-appreciated skill. He was fourth on his team in receiving yardage in 2011, behind three senior receivers, and his coach says his receiving and blocking skills will be highlighted more in 2012.
At this point he may still be growing into his body and if he puts on some good weight and gets stronger he could become an outstanding blocker to go along with his already good receiving skills. With some time in the weight room and a good summer (if he competes in 7-on-7) and fall he should see his stock rise significantly. He doesn't have the pure speed of Gaines or Reid, and won't be mistaken for a defensive end like Morgan, but as a pure tight end I like his potential four years from now as much as any of them. His Hudl film is impressive, if a bit hard to find, as he's labeled "Manges Corey" on his team's page. It also doesn't help his cause that some sites misspell his last name "Mangus", and 247Sports actually has pages for him under both spellings. Scout and 247Sports don't report any school interest or offers, but according to his coach he's been offered by Colorado. They probably won't be his only offer for long.
Dalton Vondra - Kennedale
Size: 6'5" and 260 lbs.
Junior year stats: 2 receptions, 25 yards
Highlight video: Hudl
In Mansfield's run-heavy offense, Trent Gow is mainly used as an extra blocker at tight end. In Kennedale's almost run-exclusive wing-t offense, Dalton Vondra isn't just an extra blocker lining up in the tight end spot, he looks like a guard playing tight end. If the stats on the Fort Worth Star-Telegram's DFW Varsity page for his team are accurate, Kennedale quarterbacks completed only 14 passes total in the team's 12 game season. As such, it's difficult to assess Vondra's receiving skills, but he's a force as a blocker in the running game.
He doesn't appear to have the speed to be a consistent threat in the passing game at the college level, but he'd be a good get for a power running team in need of big blocking tight ends, or he could conceivably add weight and move to the offensive line. Texas has had good (Tony Hills) and abysmal (Britt Mitchell) results in the past when converting tight ends to the offensive line, and they likely won't be recruiting Vondra unless they're serious about cornering the market on players named Dalton. He has attended Junior Days at Tulsa and Arkansas but reportedly has no offers at this time.
Alex Leslie - New Braunfels
Size: 6'5" and 210 lbs.
Junior year stats: 24 receptions, 296 yards (12.3 ypc), 4 touchdowns
Highlight video: NCSA
From watching what little film I could find of him, Alex Leslie reminds me of Griffin Gilbert at the same age, at least in terms of length, quick feet, and sneaky elusiveness after the catch. He primarily lines up on the line and occasionally in the slot, runs good routes, and has good height for the tight end position. He doesn't appear to have much muscle and his highlights only contain one blocking play. He could be an effective flex tight end in the passing game but he'll need a lot more muscle before he's ready to play in a traditional tight end position on a Division I team.
At this time, he does not have a page on 247Sports or Scout, and his Rivals page does not list any offers. He's a good-looking prospect though and will be one to watch during his senior season.
Lucas Askew - Harmony (Big Sandy)
Size: 6'6" and 210 lbs.
Junior year stats: 23 receptions, 650 yards (28.3 ypc), 10 touchdowns
Highlight video: Hudl
Askew lines up as a wideout for his team, has good speed and athleticism for a 6'6" frame, and the class 2A secondaries he faces make him look like Calvin Johnson. He makes catches in traffic and near the sideline, gets big gains on drag routes and slants, and is impossible to cover (at least at the 2A level) on corner routes. His film doesn't show him blocking much, and when he does it's usually a cut block on a defensive back. He's closer to being a college tight end than Alex Leslie but would still need to add a lot of muscle to be a reliable factor in the run blocking game. He is listed on Rivals as a tight end prospect, but with his size and speed he might make a good flex tight end or possession receiver.
Rivals is the only site to have a page for him and it does not list him as having any offers.
These are the best in-state 2013 tight end prospects that I've seen film on. The Texas staff has shown no hesitancy of late in targeting out-of-state players if they're not satisfied with their in-state options, and it's entirely possible they could go that route in search of a tight end to pair with Durham Smythe in this class. But I haven't seen any film on OOS guys at that spot and haven't read any reports of them targeting one.
What do you think, BON readers? Do you have a favorite of the ones I've named or is there a particular OOS guy we should know about?