PROVO — Across the country, spring camps allow college football players to potentially separate themselves at their positions and get a leg up on the competition heading into fall camp.
Perhaps no one realizes this more than BYU tight end Devin Mahina.
Injuries and a cluster of similar tight ends with similar skill sets battling for the same spot have conspired to keep Mahina in the background over the past four years.
But this spring is different, and the 6-foot-6 senior knows it.
“It’s finally my chance to show what I can do on offense and I’m excited for it,” Mahina said.
Mahina returns as the lone experienced classic tight end and is making the most of his increased reps. Last Saturday, he caught the first touchdown pass in the Cougars' open scrimmage at LaVell Edwards Stadium, and he's been productive throughout most practice sessions.
“He’s done a nice job,” said BYU coach Bronco Mendenhall. “We really like what Devin has done.”
Mahina's increased reps have partly come as a result of other similar players moving on. Throughout his career, Mahina has generally been on the same eligibility lines as top recruits such as Austin Holt, Marcus Mathews and Richard Wilson.
The many tight ends Mahina entered the program with are all gone now, which certainly isn't lost on him.
“It’s pretty weird that all my buddies are now gone and I’m the only one left,” he said. “But it’s good because now I’m the experienced one, I’m the senior, so I know how things go here.”
Lately, Mahina has also managed to stay healthy. Since arriving at BYU in 2010, he's undergone more than his fair share of injuries, which have conspired to limit his opportunities.
“I’ve had a lot of interesting injuries, you could say,” Mahina said. “I think it’s just things I’ve had to overcome and I think I’ve come a long way, so it’s good.”
Mahina's role this spring has been that of a classic tight end playing in tight formation out of a three-point stance. It's a role that offensive coordinator Robert Anae rarely employed last season, preferring instead to use a spread formation featuring smaller receiving tight ends.
This year, Anae's use of a traditional tight end in a three-point stance may be employed more often and that's largely due to how Mahina has performed this spring, according to Mendenhall.
“We’re trying to utilize what Devin does best and he’s good from that spot,” Mendenhall said. “The other guys you won’t see much in that position, but Devin you’ll see quite a bit there.”
“I’ve been more of a three-point tight end, which I feel (is) where I belong — in a three-point stance next to a tackle,” Mahina added. “I’m a little on the slower side compared with the smaller slot guys, but I still feel I can offer a big body with decent athleticism.”
As for the other tight ends, it's been Terenn Houk leading the pack of the sort of hybrid types. Like Mahina, the 6-foot-3, 213-pound junior caught a touchdown pass in the spring scrimmage last Saturday, managing to beat the defense into the end zone from 54 yards out.
"It was fantastic," Houk said of getting the opportunity to score the touchdown. "It was just an awesome feeling of my hard work finally paying off."
Houk understands better than anyone that his work isn't close to being over, but is intent on maintaining a top spot on the depth chart.
"You got to do whatever you can. If that means making plays and beating out people, then I just think it's going to help our team," Houk said.
The third type of tight end is more of a slot receiver in the JD Falslev mold. That position has been played primarily by 5-foot-10 sophomore Mitchell Juergens this spring.
How they'll all come together and how much each type will be utilized within the offense is yet to be determined, with both Mahina and Houk hoping to be involved like they have been this spring.
“I feel like I’ve gotten the ball way more than I have in the past, especially quick 5-yard routes or flat routes and things like that,” Mahina said. “So I think that will be good for the offense.”
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