The Eastern Kentucky University coaching staff put a big emphasis on bringing in some big bodies at tight end during the offseason.
And they were very successful.
After losing three players at the position from last year — who combined for 36 catches and three touchdowns — the Colonels signed a pair of high school standouts and added a transfer from a Football Bowl Subdivision School.
Those newcomers, along with a pair of returning veterans, should give EKU one of the deepest, biggest and most physical tight end groups in the Ohio Valley Conference.
All five of those players are at least 6-foot-3 and weigh more than 240 pounds.
“You look at the length and the athleticism, but more importantly, you look at the drive of these guys,” EKU tight ends coach Tommy Zagorski said. “These guys come in every day and they work hard. They want to get better in the run game and they want to get better in the passing game. They just want to get better.”
That group certainly has the skills to make a major impact for the EKU offense as pass catchers and as blockers.
Clayton Schmerber, a 6-foot-6, 241-pound junior from Centerville, Ohio, is the tallest tight end on the roster. He has only seven catches during his first two year at EKU, but he could be ready to have a breakout season.
“When I first got here, I think football was just a part of his life. It was a hobby for him,” Zagorski said of Schmerber. “Now, when he walks into this facility, he is locked in. He’s locked in on everything that we do. He is really blossoming right now.”
Dan Paul, a 6-foot-3, 240-pound redshirt junior from Naples, Fla., has been slowed by a series of injuries during his college career. He was redshirted in 2014 and in the past two years has played in just 14 games for the Colonels.
In 2016, he missed the final six games and finished the season with just two catches.
Paul has placed a bigger focus on nutrition and weight training and has not had any injury problems so far during training camp.
“He’s really embraced a leadership role,” Zagorski said of Paul. “He’s a quiet guy by nature. We have younger tight ends and he has taken them under his wing.”
After two seasons at Southern Miss, Taylor Marini transferred to EKU last month.
The 6-foot-4, 240-pound senior has attended three schools during his college career, including Rutgers and Copiah-Lincoln Community College.
At Southern Miss, he was used primary as a blocker. Marini played in all 13 games for the Golden Eagles last year and did not have a reception.
But, the senior has the ability to catch the ball and move the chains.
“He’s been through a lot of different programs. We are going to see what we can do with him,” Zagorski said of Marini. “I’m excited about him.”
Ethan Bradds was the first verbal commitment the Colonels received for last year’s recruiting class.
The 6-foot-5, 245-pound freshman from Jamestown, Ohio, was an First-Team All-State selection by the Associated Press at Greenview High School.
His brother, Evan, played basketball at OVC rival Belmont and in just a short time on campus, Ethan has really impressed the coaching staff.
“He’s is much further along than I thought he would be,” Zagorski said of Bradds. “He’s done a great job. His coaches did a great job preparing him (for college) in high school. He is a much more athletic kid than film led us to believe.”
Collin Sanchez also had an outstanding high school career. The 6-foot-4, 255-pound freshmen was an all-state selection at Lexington High School in Lexington, Ala. He had six touchdown receptions and also had 83 tackles and an interception.
“He’s huge. He has 35-inch arms. He was 265 (pounds) this summer,” Zagorski said of Sanchez. “He’s a great athlete. He’s learning how to work. We are taking it step by step every day.”
With that kind of size and athleticism, EKU’s tight ends certainly have the potential to step up and be targets in the passing game.
“That’s a special group,” EKU senior quarterback Tim Boyle said of the tight ends. “They are a group of guys who work extremely hard. They have big bodies. They are going to have a great year and I’m excited for them.”