The tight end is one of the few unsung heroes of offensive football. At least that's the way it used to be.
Now however, tight ends have become much more athletic, much more powerful and much more of a threat in the passing game. The New England Patriot's Rob Gronkowski is living proof of that. Tight ends today are high-paid, superstar offensive weapons, and that trickles all the way down to NAIA and Frontier Conference football.
The Montana State University-Northern Lights, who are in the midst of their first full week of fall drills, have a tight end who is certainly capable of being an offensive weapon for senior quarterback Travis Dean this season. John Jansen, a 6-3, 245-pound powerhouse from Broadview enters his senior year ready to be a focal point in the MSU-N offense.
A season ago, Jansen caught six balls for 71 yards, but also missed four games due to injury. When healthy though, Jansen was a powerful blocker for what was a successful MSU-N ground attack. But heading into the 2014 season, the MSU-N offensive coaching staff certainly feels like Jansen has all the tools to be a big-play tight end for the Lights, one who can certainly give Northern an added dimension to what should already be a dynamic offense.
Here's a look at the top returning tight ends in the Frontier Conference
Carroll College has always been the cream of the crop when it comes to tight end play in the Frontier Conference. And the 2014 season should be no different. While Cole Coba, who graduated last spring, entered the 2013 season as one of the best in the Frontier, it was actually Nate Hinrichs who emerged as a go-to tight end for the Saints last fall. Hinrichs (6-3, 235), a Helena product, appeared in eight games last season, and caught 11 passes, making him Carroll's fifth-best receiver a year ago. With a host of young tight ends behind him, Hinrichs enters his senior season as one to really watch.
In Rocky Mountain College's big-play offense, the tight end isn't always a focal point, but it could be this season with the return of Cale Vukonich (6-4, 230). Vukonich caught six balls for 71 yards and one score while only playing in six games last season. But the former Columbia Falls prep star, with his size and speed, could be in for a breakout senior season.
Eastern Oregon senior Andrew Woody (6-0, 220) and UM-Western's Connor Fuller (5-11, 228) could also be ones to watch in the passing game this season as well.
Note: This is the eighth installment in the Havre Daily News breakdown of the top returning players in the Frontier Conference. For a look at the top special team's players, see Thursday's HDN, and for a look at all of the stadiums in the conference, see Monday's Havre Daily News.