MU's Gator Hoskins leads the nation's tight ends with nine touchdown catches.
HUNTINGTON, W.Va. - It seems a long time ago, but Gator Hoskins was a high school quarterback ticketed in coach Doc Holliday's first recruiting class as a safety.Or a wide receiver, as Hoskins was listed in the 2010 signing-day release. He was listed at 6-foot-2 and 200 pounds, the latter a generous figure.Pretty quickly in 2010, he moved to the smallish group of tight ends. Future NFL player Lee Smith was as burly as they come and 6-5, 238 Jamie Hatten was on the roster, but then the group added Hoskins and redshirt freshman C.J. Crawford (then 6-2, 203)."Anytime you recruit quarterbacks who are athletes, normally there's a place they can play. He was one of those guys," Holliday said of Hoskins.Holliday and offensive coordinator Bill Legg had specific ideas on how Hoskins would be used, and the 244-pound senior from Gainesville, Fla., has rewarded their confidence. On Tuesday, Hoskins was rewarded in a big way, named a semifinalist for the John Mackey Award."Number one, he's become a great leader for us," Holliday said. "You listen to what he has to say in the locker room after the games, the way he's helped Devon Johnson prepare and that type of thing, he's a good player."The award is named for the one of the NFL's great tight ends, a Pro Football Hall of Famer and first president of the NFL Players Association. Mackey played from 1963-72 and was a member of the Baltimore Colts' Super Bowl V championship team.Of the eight semifinalists, Hoskins was the only one outside the "Power Five" conferences.
"I was honored to see my name on the list, blessed," Hoskins said Tuesday. "I was thinking, they find you anywhere. When you've got talent, no matter where you're at, they'll find you."In essentially three seasons - he played just enough in 2010 to lose his redshirt - he has 77 receptions for 952 yards and 22 touchdowns for his career; 28 for 455 with nine TDs this season.The TD ratios are most impressive. Those are just short of 30 percent for his career, but rise to nearly one in three this fall.Whether he lines up tight or is split out to the slot, he has made his red-zone operation look easy. He has scored TDs in seven different games. Several were important, including:His 13-yarder gave the Herd a 21-14 halftime lead at Virginia Tech;
His 41-yarder brought the Herd within 23-21 at Florida Atlantic, and it came on fourth-and-5;His 6-yarder against Tulsa gave MU a 28-14 lead late in the second half. Tulsa launched a second-half rally and even took the lead, but every TD was magnified in the Herd's eventual win.
"What happens to you when you get down in that red zone, score-zone area, normally that third wideout or slot receiver, which happens to be Gator, at lot of a times gets matched up on a linebacker or a strong safety, which becomes a little bit of a mismatch," Holliday said. "He's athletic for a big-body guy, and he can body up against people and go make plays."Hoskins has gained weight to 244 pounds and has gotten more physical, but he has developed in other ways."Here's a kid who played quarterback, then played a little bit of free safety," Legg said. "We brought him in here and said, 'Look, we're going to try you out at wide receiver,' because he had great ball skills and offensive mindset. He spent six to nine months in the weight room and the next thing you know he was 225 instead of 205."Coming from where I've been and running the system we run, I felt that he would be the perfect fit for what we wanted to do with our tight-end position. I don't know how enthused he was [on] day one, but as time has gone by he's bought in and he's worked hard. It's paid dividends for him."The other semifinalists are Jace Amaro of Texas Tech, Ted Bolser of Indiana, Eric Ebron of North Carolina, Devin Funchess of Michigan, Troy Niklas of Notre Dame, Nick O'Leary of Florida State and Austin Seferian-Jenkins of Washington.The three finalists will be announced Monday, with the award winner unveiled Dec. 11 and honored Dec. 12 at the College Football Awards Show.
Reach Doug Smock at 304-348-5130, email@example.com or follow him at twitter.com/dougsmock.