MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — It is fair to wonder if the rebirth of the tight end position at West Virginia was just a one-year wonder.
Last season senior Trevon Wesco came into his own, becoming WVU’s most productive pass-catching tight end since the Don Nehlen era. The question now is whether Wesco was a generational talent, or represents a change how the position is utilized at West Virginia.
The answer to that question is complicated by the arrival of a new coaching staff that hasn’t shown a predilection for throwing to tight ends. In Neal Brown’s four seasons at Troy, his tight ends caught six passes.
But Brown has also spoken about using the talent at his disposal rather than attempting to fit round pegs into square holes. Tight ends accounted for 27 of Kentucky’s 204 receptions in 2013, Brown’s first year as the Wildcats’ offensive coordinator.
As Brown noted, one of the most notable changes from Troy to West Virginia is the ability to recruit tight ends.
“One of the differences being at a Power Five compared to some Group of Five, there’s really seven-to-12 elite tight end prospects year in and year out. They’re just hard to find,” Brown said. “Most of those guys are playing basketball, honestly.”
With Jovani Haskins and Mike O’Laughlin at his disposal, Brown is enthused about what he might be able to do with the position this fall.
“Jovani Haskins has had a great offseason,” Brown said. “He has all the skills you are looking for at that position. Having his skill set, I think he has tremendous upside.”
Haskins performed well as a secondary option to Wesco last season, having the second-best season for a Mountaineer tight end in over a decade himself. Haskins, a 6-foot-5, 246-pound junior, had 16 receptions for 148 yards and a touchdown.
Brown is also enthused about O’Laughlin, a freshman who redshirted last season after a knee injury in training camp.
“I’m hoping he continues to progress back from his knee injury,” Brown said. “He’s a guy that came in, put on weight, put on strength. He’s a guy that I think has a great future here.”
O’Laughlin isn’t expected to participate in contact drills this spring.
“I think he’ll be able to do some stuff that’s on air, as far as just running routes and things like that,” Brown said. “But he won’t do anything in a competitive scenario.”
While he will never get to coach Wesco himself, Brown hopes that as Wesco’s NFL stock continues to rise, other young tight ends will look at West Virginia as a place to continue their careers.
“Guys that are big, strong and are versatile enough to play split out and wide out, or hand-down tight end, or back in the tight end position, they are really hard to find,” Brown said. “But I believe that we can recruit at least one of those type bodies each year here at West Virginia. With Wesco going in the draft and having a really good combine, really good Senior Bowl, I think that continues to help us, as well.”