The South Carolina Gamecocks might have more tight ends than an offense could know what to do with.
Three played heavily last year, another played some, another redshirted and added weight on a skinny freshman frame. Beyond them, there’s a walk-on, a true freshman, and one more guy, someone who played in every game as a true freshman in 2015 and hasn’t seen the field since.
Kyle Markway had to come back from injury, and now aims to carve out some role with a group that’s deep and will likely see its snaps decrease. The Gamecocks ran a two-tight end offense in 2016 almost by necessity, and more three-wide receiver sets are almost a given going forward.
So what can Markway do, and what does he want to do?
“I feel like in the past I’ve been more of a blocker,” Markway said. “But I feel like after my foot injury and after my hamstring injury, I really kind of focused on getting my legs stronger, getting faster, and I feel like I can be that blocker, but if they need me to be, I can be that Y that can split out now and be a mismatch.”
At 6-foot-5, 250 pounds, he certainly fits the mold of an in-line blocking tight end. Jacob August was the biggest member of the rotation last season.
Markway caught three passes for 57 yards in 2015, and even started a game on a squad where Jerell Adams mostly handled the spot.
But foot and hamstring injuries dogged him for all of 2016. He ended up taking a medical redshirt, but the season was a different sort.
“It’s definitely been tough,” Markway said. “I’ve had to come in and get extra work, treatment every morning at 5:30 a.m. But I feel great right now. I don’t have any pain. I’ve been stretching, keeping my hamstring healthy. It comes down to the guys we have in that tight end room. They’ve been keeping my head up. They’ve been pushing me to get in the weight room, doing extra stuff. I’m really thankful for those guys.”
That support reflects a level of camaraderie in the room. Even with a small army of players competing for a dwindling number of reps, the group is close.
There’s also the reality that whoever isn’t getting that work will be on special teams. Markway said Gamecocks special teams coordinator Coleman Hutzler “loves” having tight ends on the various units, with usually at least three on each.
As Markway was trying to build up his receiving chops, he’s had a chance to learn alongside a standout on that front. USC’s Hayden Hurst set program marks for tight end catches (48) and (616) yards last season.
“Hayden, ever since he got here, he’s been pushing me,” Markway said. “He’s one of my closest friends on the team. Being able to work with him in the offseason, being able to get in the film room with him and everything, that’s helped me a lot.”