Thanks to the production of Brant Kuithe, Dalton Kincaid and Cole Fotheringham in recent seasons, and thanks to the way Utah is using the position in its offense, the Utes are establishing a reputation for being a destination for tight ends.
Last season, Utah’s tight ends combined for 1,249 receiving yards and 14 touchdowns.
USC transfer Munir McClain, who was moved from wide receiver to tight end during the winter, said Utah is becoming “Tight End U.”
Recruits, among others, are taking notice of what the Utes are doing with the tight end spot.
Walker Lyons, a four-star tight end prospect from Folsom, California, is one of the most sought-after players of the 2023 class. He has Utah in his top six of potential schools, along with BYU, Alabama, USC, Stanford and Ohio State.
Lyons is rated the No. 4 tight end in the country and the 73rd best overall prospect, per 247Sports composite.
“There are some big-time tight ends that are considering Utah, people that fit the scheme really well,” said Utah tight ends coach Freddie Whittingham. “People that could come in and play right away because we will lose Dalton and Brant. It’s definitely gotten the attention of every tight end out there because of the scheme. I think, as a combined group, we had more catches than any Power Five team — 102. Tight ends like to catch the ball, so that can only help with recruiting.”
In offensive coordinator Andy Ludwig’s offense, the tight end plays a big role.
“With coach Ludwig’s scheme, it is really run through the tight ends. We’ve been able to have a big role in the entire scheme in both the run game and the throw game,” Whittingham said. “It’s been a lot of fun to be able to coach the position because they want to catch passes, right? They don’t want to just block all the time.
“It’s awesome that they get to contribute in the throw game. And it all runs through the run game. If we can run the ball effectively, it opens up the play-action pass and makes us a more dangerous throwing team as well.”
Utah uses multiple tight ends at the same time, including “13 personnel,” which is a formation that features three tight ends and one running back, or “12 personnel,” which features two tight ends.
“That is the offense — lining up in 12 personnel, which is one back, two tight ends, two wideouts but having the ability to detach both tight ends and get into a 10 look and 13 personnel, line up in empty (backfield),” Ludwig said. “That’s the crux of the offense right there.”
Kincaid enjoys playing in an offense where multiple tight ends are used.
“I mean, there’s nothing better than hearing 12, 13 personnel,” he said. “Hopefully, we can hear some four tight end sets. I think that would be pretty cool. Hopefully, we’ll see that.”
Utah is on the cutting edge of a trend in the sport, according to Kuithe.
“It’s great. You see college football and the NFL, a lot of teams are going to two- and three-tight-end sets,” he said. “I would love to say that we were the movement that caused it. I take pride and ownership that we were one of the teams that did that, thanks to coach Lud, who implemented it in the offense and brought it here.”
In addition to Kuithe and Kincaid, the Utes have a deep tight-ends room, which includes McClain, Thomas Yassmin, Landon Morris (a transfer from Syracuse), Isaac Vaha, Taniela Pututau, Deven Johnson and Hayden Erickson. A recent signee, Sidney Mbanasor, is scheduled to join the program this summer.
With Fotheringham having declared for the 2022 NFL draft, coach Kyle Whittingham said it’s “very important” for the offense to find a productive third tight end going into the fall.
“Thomas Yassmin ... in that mix as well to be that third tight end. This is his (fourth) year in the program,” he said. “He came to us with zero football experience. He has really made strides every single season. Hopefully, this is the season that he can be part of the offense.”
“If you get one guy that for whatever reason can’t be in, in that moment, you have to have somebody go in because that 13 personnel is such a valuable package for us,” said Freddie Whittingham. “You have to have that fourth guy, that fifth guy that can go in and take that role. You can’t have a drop-off in play.”
Freddie Whittingham said Yassmin is a player Utah is counting on this season.
“He’s continued to develop his game as a guy that never played football before he got here. He’s in his fourth year. He’s a guy that we expect to be a major contributor this fall.”
Kincaid appreciates the contributions of Kuithe and Fotheringham in helping elevate the tight end position at Utah. And he said that trend will continue.
“We have a lot of good guys. I’m excited for it,” he said. “I got here after it was paved but Brant and Cole did a great job of paving the way for the tight ends. We’ve got a lot of good young tight ends coming up.”
McClain is learning the position but he believes Utah is making a name for itself in terms of the tight end position in college football.
“Coach Freddie’s done a great job of that,” he said. “He can be known as ‘Tight End U.’ coach.”