Photo by Gerald Castillo
Berger searching for ‘the man’ at tight end
Moving from Oklahoma State to Texas State could not have worked out better for Keenen Brown.
The former Bobcat tight end made a name for himself in his lone season in maroon and gold, leading the team in receiving with 44 catches for 469 yards and four touchdowns. The senior was named to the All-Sun Belt first team offense, a Pro Football Focus First-Team All-American and is now waiting to hear his name called at the NFL Draft.
Morris Berger is hoping his transition will go just as well. Berger was with Brown at Oklahoma State in 2017 as an offensive quality control coach and stayed for another season with the Cowboys after Brown transferred. Berger made the move to San Marcos this offseason, stepping in as the Bobcats’ new tight ends coach.
His toughest task? Finding someone to fill in the 6-foot-3, 250-pound hole Brown left behind.
“(Brown)’s a good player, obviously came down here and had success and I’m really happy for him,” Berger said. “Ultimately, (offensive coordinator Bob) Stitt doesn’t want to sub if we don’t have to. Obviously, if guys get banged up or tired, we want to have to depth to be able to ‘next guy, step in.’ But I would like a guy who can do it all and be the man.”
Finding “the man” is tougher than it sounds. Brown took the large majority of snaps at position last season. Fellow former Bobcat Elijah Rogers was the only other tight end on the roster to reel in a reception.
Senior Brendon Rushing is the only upperclassman in the room. The rest of the unit is made up by redshirt sophomore Hunter Hebert and redshirt freshmen Seth Caillouet, Jackson Lanam, Cade Rathborne and Blake Aragon — currently converting over from wide receiver.
“Ultimately, it’s going to take reps,” Berger said. “When you have a lot of guys that don’t have reps, they’re going to get better with every rep they get out there and we’re going to get better as an offense as they continue to grow.”
Berger said the spring has been highly competitive for the group. He worried it would cause division among his players. It’s proved to be the opposite.
Rushing noted that the players get along with each other off the field. But, more importantly, they take each other seriously when they step on it.
“I feel like this unit has grown the most from a maturity standpoint,” Rushing said. “Spreading out the reps has increased the competition in the room. And so, with everybody competing for reps, competing for competition, I feel like it’s upped everybody’s game. It’s upped everybody.”
That includes Aragon, who has the least experience at the position. Aragon said his teammates joked about him making the transition last season. He laughed it off, skeptical that it would actually happen.
But once Berger and head coach Jake Spavital saw Aragon’s 6-foot-4 frame and athletic ability, they made the request. Aragon agreed and has spent the spring learning the ropes.
“I feel it really fits me,” Aragon said. “What I can grow into and, when I reach my potential, what I could be. I feel like this is what’s gonna put me over the top.”
It hasn’t been easy. Aragon only weighed about 200 pounds when he began. The other tight ends on the roster average 226 pounds. Gaining weight and completing the conversion takes time. Aragon’s an impatient person.
Thankfully, he’s had a lot of help. Brown went through the same transition early in his career. So did Rushing. They’ve both given Aragon advice on how to get through the process.
“I’m a perfectionist, so I feel like I’ve gotta do everything that I know I’m capable of,” Aragon said. “And, in my game, I can do what my coach needs me to do … And whatever the offense needs to get done, I’m gonna go do it. Whether it’s making a big play or sealing the edge, I’m gonna do it for the team.”
Berger hasn’t settled in on who “the man” could be. Rushing is a good blocker in the box. Aragon is a vertical threat in the receiving game. The other tight ends have a lot to offer, too.
It’ll come down to who can make the most of their chances. Brown always made the most of his. Berger wants to see something similar at Texas State’s spring game on Saturday at 6 p.m.
“If you’ve got three reps in there, right now, go make them the best three reps of the spring,” Berger said. “They’re working hard, mentally. They’re understanding the offense. Just physically, we’ve gotta go out there and understand what it takes to get the job done.”