When it came to replacing Hayden Hurst last season, South Carolina football’s rotation of four tight ends came close but were ultimately unable to match the record-breaking numbers Hurst recorded in 2017.
Now, as the Gamecocks work through the early stages of training camp ahead of the 2019 season, half of that rotation is back in senior Kiel Pollard and redshirt junior Kyle Markway. Behind them, position coach Bobby Bentley has options in former two-sport player Evan Hinson and freshmen Traveon Kenion and KeShawn Toney, as well as transfer Nick Muse (depending on an NCAA waiver) and redshirt sophomore Will Register.
Put it all together, and USC has the makings of another strong tight end room — and Bentley has been looking to the past to inspire his current players, showing highlights of former Gamecocks like Hurst, a first-round NFL draft pick by the Baltimore Ravens, and Jared Cook, a Pro Bowler with the New Orleans Saints.
“What we do before meetings, we actually show clips of what we call ‘good tight end play.’ Because really, our tight end position, we’re a fullback, we’re an H-back, we’re an in-line tight end and we’re a receiver, so when you look at that skill set, that’s hard to find,” Bentley said. “So we find good clips of Hayden, good clips of Jared, good clips of other tight ends across the NFL and (say), ‘Hey, this is the set and the movement skill that you want in this play.’ And we bring up Hayden a lot.”
Hurst battled injury and caught 13 passes for 163 yards and a touchdown in his rookie season, and Cook finished 2018 with 68 catches for 896 yards and six TDs. In addition to those two, South Carolina has another former tight end in the NFL in Jerell Adams, who is currently with the Houston Texans.
Of the current bunch, Pollard and Markway were listed as starters on the first depth chart of the season, backed up by Hinson and Register. But Bentley is not placing any limits on how many tight ends he thinks the team could use if they can fulfill the skill set he described.
“You don’t ever turn down a good tight end or a good wideout, and I’ve learned that from coach [Will] Muschamp,” Bentley said. “So as deep as we can get the tight end room, the better. The deeper we can get that wide receiver room, the better. And I think that’s a good thing for us.”