PROVO — BYU junior Marcus Mathews may be a tight end trapped in a wide receiver's body.
Or is it the other way around?
When Mathews arrived on campus a couple of years ago, he was thinner than a hat rack — a 6-foot-4, 200-pound wide receiver. Last season, he was switched to "flex" tight end, a hybrid position that saw him line up wide, instead of tight. In that spot, he one was one of the Cougars' leading receivers, catching 27 passes for 299 yards and one touchdown.
But going into the 2012 campaign, Mathews has changed his look, and is looking to become a conventional tight end rather than a flex tight end or receiver. Since playing in the Armed Forces Bowl last December, Mathews has bulked up, gaining 33 pounds, and now he tips the scales at 238 pounds.
"My role will be different than last year because I play traditional tight end now, not just flex tight end," Mathews said. "My role will be expanding, I think. I think I will be one of the main contributors on the offense. I think my play will show the hard work I've put in during the offseason."
Mathews didn't just add weight — he added muscle mass.
"It was a really strict regimen of diet and working out," he explained. "It took a lot of will power, just doing it every day, not missing meals, and doing my workouts. The most difficult part was not liking food anymore. Food has no taste anymore because I had to eat so much. It's definitely worth it, though. If I have to miss food for a couple of years, that's fine."
For decades, tight ends have thrived in the BYU offense. Mathews would love to become part of the Cougars' rich tight end legacy, but to do that, he has to become a complete tight end.
"This year, I'll be going down in a three-point stance, attached on the line, and doing more blocking," he explained. "I've added a lot more strength. My lifts are off the charts compared to where they used to be when I was 200 pounds. I can do anything on the inside that any tight end can do."
Part of that transformation into a conventional tight end involves becoming an effective blocker, particularly as a run-blocker.
"There's a technique to blocking out of a three-point stance as far footwork and hand placement and reading defenses and knowing who to block when you're in there, because sometimes there are eight guys in the box," Mathews said. "It's a learning curve for me."
Offensive coordinator Brandon Doman knows Mathews can be a big weapon in the Cougar offense.
"We need him. He doesn't need to be the world's best attached blocking tight end," Doman said. "He just needs to be adequate at it. That's the challenge we've given to Marcus. Otherwise, we'll put him back at wide receiver. … He's a receiver. He runs well. He's got the background of being a receiver. Those guys usually make the best tight ends in this offense. We're hoping that he can develop into being a guy like that."
Playing Mathews at a conventional tight end spot could help prevent opposing defenses from being tipped off at what kind of play Doman is calling.
"Most defenses are calling their defenses and coverages and blitzes based off the personnel," Doman said. "When we're hard to defend, it's because we're difficult to call coverages against versus personnel because we can run a number of different plays from those personnel groups. That's what we're trying to find out with Marcus right now. Can he be an all-around versatile tight end? If he can, then he'll help us a lot this year."
During fall camp, Mathews has missed several practices due to an illness. He has dealt with a sinus infection, headaches, and swollen tonsils. But BYU coaches insist that Mathews will be ready to go once the season starts.
Meanwhile, Mathews' younger brother, Mitch — a 6-foot-6, 213-pound wide receiver who recently returned home from a mission — has been impressive.
"My brother is a freak athlete. He's one of the fastest kids on the team," Marcus said. "He's almost 6-7, he can jump out of the gym, and he's a player. They're going to expect big things out of Mitch this year and even bigger in the future. I think Mitch has no limit on what he can do."
Marcus, who wears No. 80, loves playing with Mitch, who wears No. 10.
"It's awesome. Me and Mitch are best buds," he said. "We're workout partners, we always push each other and we try to learn from each other and make each other better. We're super-competitive. That's one of the reasons I came to BYU. I knew Mitch was going to get offered (a scholarship) here. This is the place we'd love to play together, and the environment we wanted to be in."
Mitch figures to be part of the rotation for the Cougars as a wide receiver.. And Marcus figures to be a key contributor — as a traditional tight end.
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