<em><em>Editor’s note: This is part five of a nine part series that will highlight each position group of the USU football team leading up to the season opener on Aug. 30 against Southern Utah.</em></em>
<strong>LOGAN—</strong>Utah State University has had a long standing tradition of using and producing talented tight ends. The Aggies’ leading pass catcher from the position in 2011 is currently working with the New York Jets, and former USU tight end Chris Cooley is a two-time Pro Bowler.
Now, heading into 2012, the Aggies may have one of the deepest and most talented tight end units in the entire country.
“As a unit, I believe … we have a very solid tight end unit. Four solid tight ends are hard to come by. It’s usually one real good one, two pretty good ones, but to have what we have – four tight ends that can play, is a special thing,” senior tight end <a href=”http://www.utahstateaggies.com/sports/m-footbl/mtt/bartlett_kellen00.html” target=”_blank”>Kellen Bartlett</a> said.
Bartlett has not played in a game since the latter part of the 2010 campaign when he missed the final three games after suffering a season ending arm injury against New Mexico State. Bartlett also missed the entire 2011 season after suffering an injury in the preseason. He received a medical redshirt, and was able to return for his senior year.
“To be back out here is great. You go through a season ending injury, and you really realize you can’t take anything for granted,” Bartlett said. “I was lucky enough to have a redshirt, and I’m very thankful for Coach A allowing me to come back and still be a part of this, because we have the makings to be a special team.”
Bartlett’s return adds to an already stocked tight end group that includes the leading returning tight end from a year ago in <a href=”http://www.utahstateaggies.com/sports/m-footbl/mtt/tialavea_dj00.html” target=”_blank”>D.J. Tialavea</a>. After playing defensive line as a freshman, Tialavea moved over to tight end as a sophomore last year and started six games. His <a href=”http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u_OMKhJgW-Q” target=”_blank”>most memorable catch</a> may have come in the season opener on a fake field goal against Auburn.
Tialavea has been hampered for most of fall camp with a knee injury and is expected to miss the Aggies first game against Southern Utah. He has begun running again though and resumed workouts, and is hopeful that he’ll be able to return against Utah in the second game.
“D.J. has really grown into what I think is a going to be a quality tight end. He’s a big physical kid – he’s 265 pounds, he’s 6 foot 3 ½ inches – and carries himself with a bit of a chip on his shoulder as far as physicality on the field,” USU head coach <a href=”http://www.utahstateaggies.com/sports/m-footbl/mtt/andersen_gary00.html” target=”_blank”>Gary Andersen</a> said.
Former Logan product <a href=”http://www.utahstateaggies.com/sports/m-footbl/mtt/theurer_brad01.html” target=”_blank”>Brad Theurer</a> will also be in the mix at the tight end spot – especially in the Aggies “Heavy” packages when three and four tight ends are used. Theurer has some knee problems that cause him quite a bit of pain, but Andersen said he has been able to manage the pain thus far and is expected to play through it.
The other tight end of the group is <a href=”http://www.utahstateaggies.com/sports/m-footbl/mtt/andersen_keegan00.html” target=”_blank”>Keegan Andersen</a> – Gary’s son. Due to Tialavea’s injury, Keegan has seen a major increase in reps during fall camp, and he has delivered. A former receiver in high school, Keegan has displayed great hands coming across the middle, but has also proved that he is a capable blocker.
“Keegan Andersen to me has been a real positive for us in that he has become more physical. I think he was a little more of a receiver coming in here, and as time has gone one, he’s become a more physical tight end type guy who can also catch the ball,” said assistant head coach <a href=”http://www.utahstateaggies.com/sports/m-footbl/mtt/sanford_mike00.html” target=”_blank”>Mike Sanford</a> who also works with the tight ends.
With so much talent returning to one position, Bartlett said the expectations are high for the unit. He also said he expects the tight ends to live up to them.
“As a unit, I believe we have the ability to be one of the best units in the WAC, if not the country. I think that we focus on trying to be an all-around unit,” Bartlett said. “If we can be that all-around unit, we can help this team and change the games. That’s what our goal is, to help this offense and to help with the big plays and all that.”