HUNTINGTON — As Kyle Segler gets set for his first season at the helm of Marshall’s tight ends, he can’t help but smile.
That’s because Segler may have entered the strongest position grouping on Marshall’s football team for 2019.
Under head coach Doc Holliday, Marshall has always had a strong tight end presence with names like Gator Hoskins and Ryan Yurachek standing out in memory as guys who have produced at high levels.
While Marshall has normally had one tight end that shined above all others, the 2019 team has a wealth of talent — all of which brings something a little different to the table.
Armani Levias is the most established tight end of the group after hauling in 25 receptions for 327 yards and three touchdowns in 2018.
At 6-foot-4, 247 pounds, Levias is a versatile, big-bodied player who is an established blocker in the run game and a capable receiver in the passing attack that can produce matchup problems.
Prior to the season, Levias was named to the John Mackey Award Watch List as one of the nation’s top tight ends.
While Levias is the most known out of the group, the late portion of the 2018 season saw another tight end emerge in former quarterback Xavier Gaines.
Perhaps no one fits the mold of what Hoskins did during his time with the Herd better than Gaines. Like Hoskins, Gaines made the transition from quarterback to tight end and, after some early adjustment struggles at the spot, Gaines shined in the late portion of the year.
Gaines finished the season with 13 receptions for 213 yards and a touchdown, but may provide the biggest matchup problem of all when the Herd faces the opposition.
At 6-foot-2, 230 pounds, Gaines is now more of the prototype size of a tight end, but has not lost the athleticism that made him a nightmare matchup.
Linebackers have proven too slow to stay with Gaines while defensive backs are at a size disadvantage when covering him because of his ability to use his body for positioning.
Hoskins utilized a similar structure and skill set to catch 50 passes for 821 yards and 15 touchdowns during the 2013 season.
While Levias and Gaines saw the field for the Herd with regularity in 2018, perhaps the best-kept secret among the halls of the Shewey Building is young tight end Devin Miller.
Miller was dominant in the spring and seemed to take his game to the next level under Segler, which bodes well for the Herd.
During one spring practice, the offense and defense went live for the entire session and Miller took advantage with some highlight-reel catches, snagging three touchdowns and consistently being a go-to target for both Isaiah Green and Alex Thomson.
Miller only had one catch for two yards in 2018 and was utilized more on special teams, but the sophomore-to-be is expected to see a significant increase in playing time in 2019.
Marshall also has two more tight ends whose status are not known following springtime injuries: former quarterback-turned-tight end Garet Morell and 2019 junior college signee Zach Leininger. Local product Jacob Kirkendoll is in the tight end room as well.
As 2019 approaches, Marshall has to find ways to replace two of its leading receivers in Tyre Brady and Marcel Williams. With the talent at the tight end position, it is likely to be part of that equation for offensive coordinator Tim Cramsey.
Holliday routinely says that he wants to find ways to get his best 11 players on the field. With a three-headed monster at tight end, the possibilities are plentiful for Marshall to experiment with its offense in an effort to utilize those matchups.
Segler said during spring that he feels like Marshall has three No. 1 tight ends in its room.
As fall approaches, the only problem Segler and Cramsey may have is figuring out exactly who is No. 1 within the group.
Still, the problem of having too much talent at a position is one they will take every day of the week.