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Cougars’ tight end finally having fun

Coats has matured after 3 tough, losing seasons

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PROVO — Daniel Coats' career at BYU hasn't exactly gone as he had expected.

In 2001, when Coats was a star receiver at Northridge High, he noticed the Cougar offense, led by quarterback Brandon Doman and running back Luke Staley, shred opposing defenses en route to a 12-2 record. He wanted to be a part of it.

"They were out there, making it look easy, to where they had their way with any defense," he recalled. "In my head, that was BYU football. I thought, when I come here, that was the way it was going to be. We're going to line up no matter what team comes out and we're going to put points on them. It's going to be fun."

But his first few seasons as a Cougar weren't fun, as BYU suffered three straight losing seasons.

Coats signed with the Cougars in 2002 as a wide receiver and redshirted that fall. Former tight ends coach Mike Empey would joke with Coats, saying that one day he would be a tight end. "I was like, 'Never,"' Coats remembered.

While working with strength and conditioning coach Jay Omer, Coats became bigger and stronger. Soon, Coats was switched from wide receiver to tight end.

"In the blink of an eye, I gained 40 pounds," he said. "One day (the coaches) just popped it on me and told me to go with the tight ends. That whole day, I was mad. I thought, 'They lied to me. They told me I was a receiver and always going to be one."'

That same week, Coats talked to other tight ends in the program and a couple from the past, including Chad Lewis, who went on to become a Pro Bowl selection as a member of the Philadelphia Eagles.

"They talked to me and said, 'Being a tight end in this offense is actually a great thing. You're not a big fat guy that's blocking somebody the whole time. You're actually an important part of the offense.' After hearing that, it didn't seem that bad."

Coats burst onto the scene as a freshman in 2003, scoring two touchdowns in his first collegiate game in a win over Georgia Tech. For the season, he set a BYU freshman tight end record with 30 receptions for 378 yards.

But Coats went through a stretch where he struggled holding onto the ball and his production suffered. As a sophomore in 2004, he caught 13 passes for 160 yards and zero touchdowns.

Last season, as a junior sharing time with Jonny Harline, he regained his old form and his numbers improved, hauling in 21 passes for 189 yards and three touchdowns.

This season, he has 11 catches for 126 yards and a TD. Still, he remains in Harline's shadow. "He's a phenomenal player," Coats said of Harline.

Coats admits he would like to see more playing time. "Sometimes it gets me a little down, but that's the competitive part of me saying that I want to get in there and do it," he said. "It's definitely better for our team if he's doing it better than me, he's supposed to be in there. It makes me want to work harder and get better."

But the most frustrating thing during his Cougar career has been the frequent losses and letdowns that have prevented BYU from winning seasons and a conference championship.

"Last year we thought, 'This is the team that's going to do it.' We fell short," he said. "The year before that, we thought it was going to be the year we would do it, but we fell short again."

Which makes this season's 6-2 start so enjoyable for Coats. The Cougars are rolling up points and yardage and they're on track to capture their first conference title since 2001.

This year is much closer to the kind of fun Coats had in mind when he arrived in Provo. "To finally start doing it and to keep it rolling," he said, "it's awesome."

BLOWOUTS: In their last five games, the Cougars have outscored its opponents, 201-55. The last close game BYU had was a 30-23 setback at Boston College on Sept. 16.

"I like close games. I'd prefer it to be close," said BYU safety Quinn Gooch. "Games that we're winning with a big margin, they're still fun, but I like the games where every play, the game's on the line."

FAST STARTS: BYU is outscoring opponents 164-41 in the first half this season. The Cougars average 20.5 points in the first half while limiting opponents to 5.1 points.

Cougars on the air

BYU (6-2, 4-0) at Colorado St. (4-4, 1-3)

Saturday, 4:30 p.m.

Hughes Stadium

TV: The mtn.

Radio: 1160AM, 102.7FM

E-mail: jeffc@desnews.com