SALT LAKE CITY — A year ago, the tight ends were a forgotten part of the Utah football team’s offense. Over the entire 2017 season, the tight ends were mostly used for blocking and caught a grand total of nine passes all season, none for touchdowns.
That’s changed considerably this season as the tight ends have become an integral part of the Ute offense, which has been getting better by leaps and bounds every week, topped by the 541-yard performance last week against USC.
Through just seven games, four tight ends have already caught 22 passes for Utah, including three for touchdowns. And leading the way has been a true freshman, who isn’t even listed on the Ute two-deep chart at the tight end position.
Brant Kuithe came to Utah from Cinco Ranch High School in Katy, Texas, where he did everything, playing running back, receiver, quarterback, kickoff returner, punt returner, not to mention punter, where he averaged 40 yards per kick.
So naturally, Kuithe (pronounced “Keeth-ee”) is playing a brand-new position in college as an undersized tight end.
“Not many freshmen expect to play, so it’s just an honor to be able to play early as a freshman,” Kuithe said. “I came in with a mindset that nothing’s given, so I just worked hard and earned what I’ve done so far. I’m enjoying how it’s going right now.”
In last week’s big win over USC, Kuithe caught four passes for 68 yards. His touchdown came in the first game against Weber State when he got behind the defense on a wheel route for a 29-yard score.
Coach Kyle Whittingham is pleased with his four tight ends — senior Jake Jackson, who caught a touchdown pass against USC, freshman Cole Fotheringham, who is back from a church mission and also has a TD catch, and Olympus High grad Connor Haller, who has seen time in every game — but has special praise for the 18-year-old Kuithe.
“Brant is a tough matchup for a linebacker, has a great feel for running routes and has exceptional hands,” said Whittingham. “So he’s been a big plus.”
Quarterback Tyler Huntley smiled when asked earlier this week about Kuithe, saying, “He knows how to get open,” and then added about all of his tight ends, “they’re definitely a great aspect of the offense and they spread the field even more.”
Kuithe, who is listed at 6-foot-2, 218 pounds, came to Utah with his twin brother, Blake, who, at 6-foot-4, 245 pounds, plays defensive end. Brant explains the difference in their size, pointing out that they are fraternal twins, and adds, “we don’t look alike either.”
Amazingly, the Kuithes were among four different sets of twins who played at the same high school in Katy, a town of 18,000 just west of Houston.
“We grew up since junior high and all ended up on the same team,” he said. “We had a lot of news programs come, since we had four sets of twins, so it was pretty fun.”
The two brothers were originally headed to Rice near their home, but changed their minds after a coaching change there.
“We were together all of our life and didn’t want to split up, so when we came on our visit together, it felt like the right place to be,” said Kuithe. “So far it is.”
Brant says being a twin, has “its ups and downs,” but adds, “it’s fun watching the other brother play — you have someone with you in college, so its great that we got to go to the same school together.”
The two biggest challenges for Kuithe as he moves forward is improving his blocking technique and getting bigger. Kuithe is small for a tight end — the other three Ute tight ends range between 230 and 245 pounds, but that’s something that can be corrected.
“I’ve worked on my blocking because obviously as a running back in high school I didn’t do much blocking and I've got to improve at that,” he said. “Obviously I have to gain weight, because at my weight I’m not a standard tight end.”
Kuithe already has speed and receiving skills, so when he does put on some pounds and continues to perfect his blocking skills, the young Texan should become a force at the tight end position for Utah for years to come.