Tight ends expanding roles in new system

WKU tight end Mitchell Henry runs the ball in the first quarter of the Hilltoppers vs. Florida Atlantic last season. WKU lost 37-28.

Elliott Pratt

The relationship between a coach and player can be crucial to the success of a team. For WKU, the tight ends feel a connection with their coach that could help them to achieve the high expectations set before them.

Pete Nochta is in his first year with the Toppers leading the tight end squad as an offensive graduate assistant. Nochta knows a little something about the tight end position in the offense of coach Bobby Petrino – the Lexington native from Tates Creek High School played at Louisville during Petrino’s final year with the Cardinals in 2006.

Junior tight end Mitchell Henry said the ability for Nochta to relate with the tight ends helps the group to better understand the system.

“Last year coach (Stu) Holt was a little more intense than coach Nochta,” Henry said. “Coach Nochta is a lot younger and he can relate to us a little more…he played at Louisville for coach Petrino so he’s been in our shoes so he knows what to do and how hard it is.”

Nochta’s familiarity with the offense will play a role in helping the tight end core excel on the field.

“If you go back and look at the history of coach (Petrino’s) offense it’s always been a successful one and an integral part of it has always been the play of the tight ends,” Nochta said. “Luckily for me, I kind of got a chance to learn it when I played for him, but you have to be able to run block, pass protect, and run routes and you have to have athleticism.”

Nochta noted that the tight end success from the spring game was evident to the abilities of the tight ends. Tyler Higbee, who made the switch this year from wide receiver to tight end, said he has now completely embraced the new role, but it wasn’t all easy.

“Blocking, that was the hardest thing I had to do. The transformation obviously from wide receiver to tight end is a lot more blocking,” Higbee said. “Mainly it’s working against more linebackers and safeties than corners and safeties. The dudes are a little bit bigger, so you have to use different techniques on them.”

Higbee isn’t the only one adjusting to a new role of blocking on the line. Last year Henry hauled in 13 catches for 195 yards and three touchdowns as a “pass-catching tight end”, but said his blocking techniques have improved tremendously this offseason.

“It’s been a big adjustment. The past two years being behind Jack (Doyle), I’ve been more of a pass-catching tight end. This year I’ll have to step up in that blocking role, too,” Henry said. “I’ve worked on my technique a lot more and coming off the ball harder. Blocking wise I feel like I’m 10 times better than I have been blocking wise the past two years.”

Nochta said this group of tight ends are special in that they very coachable and pay special attention to detail.

“It’s one thing to coach somebody that’s not coachable, but all these guys love football,” Nochta said. “They all are masters of the craft, they try to focus on the small details and that’s what makes you better and that’s what helps you to win the Mackey Award. That’s what helps you to be the best tight end in the conference.”