Marshall football: Hoskins nears Herd touchdown mark
HUNTINGTON, W.Va. -- Ask Marshall football players to explain tight end Gator Hoskins' end-zone domination and you'll get shrugged shoulders - even from Hoskins himself.
"I can't really explain it," he said. "I'm just getting open and (quarterback Rakeem) Cato is finding me."
If Cato finds him one more time for a touchdown this season, Hoskins will own outright the single-season school record for touchdown catches by a tight end. His first-quarter touchdown catch from Cato in Marshall's 38-28 win over Memphis gave him nine for the season, matching Mike Bartrum and Sean Doctor.
"He just has a smell for the end zone," Cato said. "I don't know how he does it or what it is, but he just has a taste for the end zone."
If there is an answer, Hoskins said it's found in one word - work. Since before this season began, the 6-foot-2, 240-pound junior has worked on every facet of his game to become a red zone target Cato can't ignore. He'll likely be a prime target for Cato, and a receiver the defense must find, when the Herd travels to Alabama-Birmingham for a 4:30 p.m. game (CSS/WVAH).
Hoskins made the watch list in October for the Mackey Award, given annually to college football's top tight end. This is after a sophomore season where he caught three touchdowns, a mark he matched in this season's loss to Purdue alone. Nearly a third of Hoskins' 30 catches have been touchdowns.
Cato jokes that the other receivers get on Hoskins' case, telling him they want to see him make the "tough" touchdowns, the ones where he's running 40 yards down the field. But red zone touchdowns are nothing easy. Receivers must find holes in tight quarters. And when they get that close to the goal line, the back of the end zone almost becomes a 12th defender.
Hoskins' ability to find daylight comes from trying to improve his footwork and route running.
"You get separation from a defender," he said. "You don't give the defender a chance to undercut you for an interception. Just getting separation makes it an easy throw for Cato."
Receiver Tommy Shuler has become one of college football's most prolific pass-catchers by overcoming the limits of his 5-foot-8, 187-pound frame with precision route-running. He's seen Hoskins work during and outside of the regular season to make his cuts crisp. Shuler said he'll sometimes offer Hoskins advice on how to couple accurate routes with his bigger frame.
"He usually goes against linebackers and they put corners on me," Shuler said. "He's got a big body, so it's hard to push him off his route."
It also helps that Hoskins knows first-hand the things Cato looks for in receivers. He looked for them from his own receivers when he played quarterback at Eastside High School in Gainesville.
Hoskins threw for 1,977 yards and 10 touchdowns as a senior before converting to tight end at Marshall.
So he knows the frustrations that come with bad routes and dropped balls. He also knows the comfort that comes from knowing a receiver is there when he needs one. Hoskins wants Cato to be that comfortable with him.
"I just want to go out there and let him know he can have faith in me," Hoskins said. "He can think, 'I went to him on this play and he made it. Where is he? He understands I'll go out and make the play because I understand how he feels."
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CATO EARNED his first Conference USA Offensive Player of the Week award Monday, sharing the honor with East Carolina quarterback Shane Carden. Cato threw for 341 yards and four touchdowns on 34-of-44 passing in Marshall's 38-28 win over Memphis. His 28-yard fourth-quarter touchdown pass to Davonte Allen on fourth and 6 gave the Herd its winning margin.
Cato is the third Herd player to win at least a share of a C-USA weekly award. Shuler was named offensive player of the week following Marshall's loss to Purdue. Punter Tyler Williams was named special teams player of the week following the Herd's win over Rice.
Contact sportswriter Derek Redd at email@example.com or 304-348-1712. His blog is at blogs.dailymail.com/marshall.