ANNAPOLIS, Md. - Harold "Gator" Hoskins left high school as a quarterback. He wanted to come to Marshall University as a wide receiver. His head coach saw in him a potential safety. But he's leaving the Thundering Herd as one of the best tight ends in program history.
It was a roundabout route the senior took to find his niche on Marshall's roster, but he grew into it - literally and figuratively - quite well. He used the skills that made him so dangerous in his previous positions and melded that with a body befitting his current one to become one of the most prolific scoring threats in college football and the best scoring tight end in Marshall history.
Hoskins caps his record-setting career today when the Herd faces Maryland in the Military Bowl at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium (2:30 p.m., ESPN), and he gets one more chance to climb even higher in Marshall's annals.
Hoskins showed a knack for scoring production at Eastside High in Gainesville, Fla., though it was from under center. He was a quarterback in the team's wing-T offense and accounted for 20 touchdowns as a senior, 10 passing and 10 rushing. Hoskins figured he could use his athleticism to help the Herd score, too, except by catching passes rather than tossing them.
"When I first got here, I told the coaches I wanted to play receiver," he said. "So I'm thinking, hey, I'm going to be a receiver. I'm going to come in, contribute, play a little bit my freshman year and if not, redshirt. I'd just help the team out the best way I could at receiver. I wasn't expecting to be a tight end."
Marshall's coaches weren't exactly expecting it either. Coach Doc Holliday looked at Hoskins and figured he could become a safety. Offensive coordinator Bill Legg said he had the frame that, if he started out as a safety, he could bulk up and become a linebacker. But Hoskins started out at receiver, a short-lived stint once he did start bulking up.
"All of a sudden, he walks in here and he's 225," Legg said. "And we were like, huh, this guy would make a great H-back and become a great tight end as we move forward."
Hoskins admits that he didn't realize the potential he had at tight end. His coaches realized it for him. Wide receivers normally tip the scales at something smaller than 225, so transforming into a tight end became necessary. But that transformation was more than physical. Quarterbacks are taught to avoid contact. Tight ends are taught to embrace it.
Now Hoskins had to learn what football was like with a hand in the dirt.
"That part was changing a mindset," Hoskins said. "I wasn't used to that before. You're getting touched every play and you have to be physical up front. It was just something I had to get my mind prepared for and get the mindset to be tough and be a go-getter."
It was a tackling drill during Hoskins' freshman year that gave him an idea that he could flourish at this foreign position. He had a defensive end bearing down on him during that drill and, when that end popped him, he wondered if this new role would fit him. On the next go-round, when he got the better of that end, he figured he was all right.
Legg also convinced Hoskins that this job was for him by referencing past players with similar stories. Dustin Keller, a tight end and Mackey Award semifinalist during Legg's time on Purdue's staff, was the prime example. Keller, Legg said, entered college as a 207-pound receiver, took a redshirt, then grew to 225 pounds. He finished his career at 242 pounds, was named second-team all-Big Ten in 2007 and was a first-round pick of the New York Jets in 2008.
"I'm sure he wasn't overly ecstatic when we first moved him, just like Keller wasn't overly ecstatic when we first moved him," Legg said. "And I can name numbers and numbers of players I remember sitting in my office and crying because, 'I want to stay at this position. I don't want to play that position.'
"But at the end of the day," he continued, "what's best for the kid is what's best for the team. And what was best for Gator was to move to tight end because it eventually it was going to be best for the team."