Which school is Tight End U?

You have probably heard the names Linebacker U or Tailback U associated with college football programs with perhaps more than one school proclaiming to be a position U. Which schools truly deserve that distinction?

I used the following criteria to determine which school is truly a position U:

  1. One can certainly debate how good a player was in college. However, when it comes to being named an All-American, there is no debate. If a player was named an All-American, he had to be very good. Rather than add to a school’s claim of being “position U” with players who weren’t All-Americans, and debate how good they were, such as the University of Miami’s quarterbacks Jim Kelly and Bernie Kosar or Auburn’s running backs William Andrews, Joe Cribbs, James Brooks, Lionel James, and Ronnie Brown, only 1st, 2nd and 3rd-team All-Americans factored into the selection and evaluation process.
  2. Only a player’s collegiate performance was taken into account and considered, and not what they accomplished as a professional. If a Heisman Trophy winner or an All-American was a bust in the NFL, that doesn’t diminish what they accomplished at the collegiate level. Their performance as a pro does not factor in or influence this selection process.

Also, occasionally a position change occurs for a player from his college to professional career so which position does the school get credit for? For example, should Terrelle Pryor count as a wide receiver for Ohio State?  That’s absurd. That’s why only their college career should count towards a being a position U.

In comparing each school’s All-Americans from the past 50 years, obviously some were greater than others. Past and recent greatness as well as consistency through the years are what constitute a school being chosen as a position U.

This is my look at the tight end position in my series on which school should be known as Tight End U.

There are only two schools that legitimately can proclaim to be Tight End U over the past 50 seasons followed by a group of schools that either had four or five All-American tight ends in that same time frame.

Working our way to Tight End U we will first look at that group of schools. Michigan, Missouri, Oklahoma and UCLA each had four All-American tight ends in the past 50 seasons.

Michigan’s four All-American tight ends the past 50 seasons were:  Jim Mandich ’69, Jerame Tuman ’97, Bennie Joppru ’02 and Jake Butt in 2015 and 2016. Butt won the John Mackey Award as the nation’s top tight end in 2016.

Like Michigan, Missouri also had four All-American tight ends the past 50 years. The four Tigers were: Kellen Winslow, Sr. ’78, Martin Rucker ’07, Chase Coffman ’08, and Michael Egnew in 2010 and 2011. Having three Missouri players named All-American at tight end four out of six seasons is impressive.

UCLA is another school that had four tight ends named All-American. They were: Tim Wrightman in 1981, Paul Bergmann in 1983, Charles Arbuckle in 1988 and 1989, and Mercedes Lewis in 2005.

The fourth school that had four All-American tight ends the past 50 seasons is Oklahoma. The four Sooners were: Steve Zabel ’69, Keith Jackson ’86 & ’87, Jermaine Gresham in ’08 and Mark Andrews in 2017.

Which schools had more All-American tight ends than four?  At number four on our countdown to Tight End University is the University of Colorado. The Buffaloes had five beginning with J.V. Cain in 1973, Don Hasselbeck in 1975 & 1976, Jon Embree in 1984, Christian Fauria in 1994 and Dan Graham in 2001.

At number three on our list as Tight End U is the University of Miami. The Hurricanes had five tight ends named All-American in the past 50 seasons: Willie Smith ’85, Dan Bubba Franks ’99, Jeremy Shockey ’91, Kellen Winslow, Jr. ’03, and Clive Waiford in 2014.

Now down to the final two. Is it any wonder that a school that had such outstanding quarterbacks as well as Brigham Young would not maximize the use of their tight ends as an offensive weapon as well?

The BYU Cougars are number two on the list as Tight End U. First there was two-time All-American Gordon Hudson in ’72 and ’73. Beginning with Clay Brown in 1980, Brigham Young would have a tight end named All-American seven out of the next 17 seasons. After Brown, there was David Mills ’84, Trevor Molini ’85, Chris Smith ’89-’90, Byron Rex ’92, Itula Mili ’96, Jonny Harline ’06 and Dennis Pitta 2008 and 2009. No school had more All-American tight ends than Brigham Young did with nine.

What holds back Brigham Young University from being Tight End U is the despite having one more All-American tight end in the past 50 seasons than Notre Dame, none have won the John Mackey Award as the top tight end in the country and the Cougars have not had a tight end named All-American since 2009.

When it comes to Tight End U, the Fighting Irish of Notre Dame rightfully have earned that distinction. In looking at the Fighting Irish’s list of All-American tight ends, some very well-known tight ends of the past 50 years are on this list beginning with Dave Casper in 1973. Casper is followed by three-time All-American Ken McAfee ’75, ’76 and ’77, then Tony Hunter in ’82, Mark Bavaro in ’84, Derek Brown ’91, Irv Smith ’92, John Carlson ’06 and lastly two-time All-American Tyler Eifert in 2011 and John Mackey Award winner in 2012. With a list like that, it’s easy to see why Notre Dame is Tight End University.

Interesting fact:  In an extremely rare feat of having a father-son both make All-American and at the same position of tight end, it was accomplished by Kellen Winslow, Sr. with Missouri in 1978 and Kellen Winslow, Jr. with Miami in 2003.

BYU Photo credit: Majdan on Visual Hunt / CC BY-NC-SA

Colorado Photo credit: Redbird310 on VisualHunt / CC BY-NC-ND

Miami flags Photo credit: specvthis on Visualhunt.com / CC BY-NC-SA

Notre Dame Photo credit: Urthstripe on Visual Hunt / CC BY

John Baranowski is a sports historian and contributor to newspapers, sports publications and sports websites. This and other articles written by him can be found on his blog:  https://johnbaranowski.wordpress.com/.



2 thoughts on “Which school is Tight End U?

    1. Thank you for reading the article and commenting Bill. Rudolph was never an All-American and I based my ratings solely on All-Americans at each position at each school and listed only All-Americans. There’s no debate to how good All-Americans were. Rudolph was on his way to an All-American season his junior year had he not got hurt and missed a good bit of action. You may well be right about him possibly winning the Mackey Award had he stayed for his senior season.


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