Marshall football: Hoskins looks to be more physical
HUNTINGTON, W.Va. - When Marshall tight end Gator Hoskins returned to the practice field this preseason, after missing the spring following shoulder and back surgeries, he wasn't going to be satisfied with just getting his receiving abilities back into top shape.
With his nose for the football, especially in the end zone, it wouldn't take long before he was back at full speed catching passes.
The senior wanted to bring every part of his game to full speed. On top of the more glamorous aspects of the position, he wanted to improve in the grittier categories as well. So Hoskins has pushed through the bumps, bruises and soreness to become a more physical tight end and add another dimension that should help both the Marshall offense and his prospects as a professional football player.
As he recovered from his injuries, Hoskins and tight ends coach Todd Hartley spent the offseason going over his past performances and looking for areas to develop.
"All through the summer, me and Coach Hartley came and watched film," Hoskins said. "We saw that was one of my weaknesses, so all summer, we were going over footwork and he was telling me to be more physical. That's what the team needs, so that's what I've got to do."
Hartley said that, through the first two weeks of preseason camp, it's obvious that the 6-foot-2, 244-pounder out of Gainesville, Fla., is better at the point of attack at the line of scrimmage. That's especially impressive since, because of Hoskins' injuries, the last time he crashed pads against an opponent was November of last year.
"When he has to go up against Jeremiah Taylor and block Jeremiah Taylor and Alex Bazzie, he's done a phenomenal job," Hartley said. "When you come in and watch the film from last year and two years ago, he was OK at that. But he realizes that, if he has any aspirations of going on, they're not going to want him to stand out there and just look pretty like a two-point wide receiver.
"He has to stick his foot in the ground and put his face mask on somebody and he has realized that," Hartley continued. "He's concentrated on that and he's really done a phenomenal job of focusing on his weaknesses this fall camp."
Hartley's also appreciated Hoskins' work ethic, considering what he's recovering from. He figures the senior is sore as he goes rep after rep through the drills. But he said Hoskins has not once begged out of a drill or complained about soreness.
"To be honest with you, he's further along than I ever thought he would be at this point," Hartley said.
But Hoskins knows what's at stake. He's in his final year of his Marshall career and emerged last season as quarterback Rakeem Cato's go-to player in the red zone. His 10 touchdown receptions led the team and broke the single-season record for touchdowns by a tight end. He's playing for both his team's immediate future and his own long-term future, so there's no complaining.
"Every day I'm sore," Hoskins said. "Every day every guy out here is probably sore. It's football. You're never going to be 100 percent, but you know you have to be mentally tough."
Hoskins remains tough to defend in the passing game. During Tuesday's practice, he snagged a Blake Frohnapfel pass for a touchdown. He's not only on the watch list for the Mackey Award, presented annually to college football's top tight end, but he's also on several experts' lists of the top NFL prospects out of Conference USA.
With that in mind, Hoskins has welcomed the opportunity to show his toughness and his versatility.
"A lot of teams, NFL teams, scouts, they know I can run out, catch a ball and run a route," Hoskins said. "We just want to give them different looks, to line me up in different places and not just always have to call a pass. Maybe line me up in the backfield and maybe not call a pass, but call a run and I can get it done".
Contact sportswriter Derek Redd at firstname.lastname@example.org or 304-348-1712. His blog is at blogs.dailymail.com/marshall. Follow him on Twitter @derekredd.