Wyoming TEs Mayfield, Harshman and Fort hope to fill void
Wyoming’s tight end group finds itself in a situation that’s far from unique on the Cowboys’ offense.
Gone from last season is 86 percent of the tight ends’ receiving yards. But they will get no pity from Wyoming’s running backs, who lost 99 percent of their rushing yards, or receivers, who lost 80 percent of their receiving yards.
That doesn’t make replacing Jacob Hollister any less of a challenge.
“The first or second day (of spring camp), we were doing routes with the quarterbacks, and I was just standing there waiting for Jake to go,” tight end Tyree Mayfield said. “Because he always went first and I went second. (A coach) was like, ‘Is anyone going to go?’ I was like, ‘Oh, that’s me.’ It’s kind of weird.”
Hollister pulled in 32 catches for 515 yards last season, both good for third on the team behind fellow seniors Tanner Gentry and Jake Maulhardt, and earned first-team all-Mountain West honors. His seven touchdown receptions were second only to Gentry on the team and seventh in the Mountain West.
Percentage wise, Hollister actually produced more than his share among Wyoming’s tight ends, even as he took the majority of the snaps.
“Jake had a lot of experience,” Wyoming tight ends coach Jacob Claborn told the Casper Star-Tribune (http://bit.ly/2ov3yuo). “We relied on him heavily. Last year he took about 62 percent of our snaps. So that’s a lot of production that we’re searching for.”
Mayfield, Natrona County graduate Josh Harshman and Gillette graduate Austin Fort, all of whom will be juniors in the fall, will attempt to make up for some of that production this season.
Harshman has seven catches for 89 yards and a touchdown in two seasons, and Mayfield has seven catches for 54 yards and a touchdown in the same time. Fort spent his freshman season redshirting as a quarterback for Wyoming before transferring to Chabot Community College. He returned to the Cowboys last season and moved to the tight end position.
The three have separated themselves from the rest of Wyoming’s tight end group — currently six deep with Sam Maughan out for the spring with an injury. But there hasn’t been much in the way of separation between the three themselves.
“It’s pretty even,” Claborn said. “I think they all have their strengths, so it’s good. I’m grading every single practice. I’ve got a notebook, and every single rep they take, they’re getting a plus or a minus, so we’re keeping track of that.”
As Hollister’s statistics show, Wyoming’s passing game was plenty inclusive of tight ends last season. And with Gentry and Maulhardt gone? Well, those Josh Allen passes have to go somewhere.
“I’m really excited about that,” Mayfield said. “Because I was really like a more first-, second-down run blocker last year, only with a couple catches. But now that (Hollister) is gone and that starting spot’s open, I’m hoping I get more in the pass game.”
Mayfield said he remained at 240 pounds during offseason conditioning while losing some body fat. He is the only one of the three tight ends with three seasons at Wyoming under his belt; Harshman played as a true freshman.
Mayfield is also the only one of the three not to have transitioned from quarterback in college. Harshman quarterbacked the Mustangs to a state championship his senior season.
Harshman bulked up to 235 pounds before losing some of that weight to food poisoning this spring. He finished last year at 220, he said.
“I’ve always been an undersized tight end since I got here,” said Harshman, who also played linebacker in high school. “So it’s definitely nice to kind of finally put on a little bit of weight, and hopefully (add) some more before the season starts.”
If history is any indication, former quarterbacks can succeed as Wyoming tight ends. Hollister, a transfer from Nevada and Arizona Western Community College, was also a converted quarterback.
“I personally love having quarterbacks play tight end, because they’re bright,” Claborn said. “And you’ve got to be bright to play tight end in our system.”
Of course, with Fort’s position change coming so recently, he has some catching up to do in terms of experience.
“(Mayfield and Harshman) played in the games and you just can’t replicate a game,” Fort said. “Even in practice. They do have that experience, and I just try to learn from them. I listen to what they have to say. I watch the tape, and I try to pick up on the things that they’re doing and integrate it into my game.”
Mayfield said that Fort’s athleticism has helped him make up the difference. Fort is listed at 6-foot-4 and 244 pounds, 1 inch taller and at least 3 pounds heavier than both Harshman and Mayfield.
“The biggest thing with Austin is I’ve been trying to rein him in a little bit,” Claborn said. “He plays fast, and sometimes it’s actually a little too fast. So (I’ve been) kind of pulling the reins back a little bit and letting him really feel where he needs to be with his body. Because it is just such a completely different skill type for him.”
Regardless of who ends up claiming the designation of starting tight end, it’s not likely he will end up dominating the percentages quite like Hollister did a year ago.
“I’ve told those guys, I said, ‘I don’t care who plays,'” Claborn said. “‘I don’t care if all three of you guys play even reps, if it’s one guy playing heavy reps.’ It doesn’t matter. We’re just going to go win ball games and figure out what that formula is for our position.”