If you want to play tight end, you better be able to catch the football. More and more, that seems to be the mantra of the modern game.
Casual fans have stopped evaluating tight ends by their blocking technique and shifted almost exclusively to their receiving abilities. Catches, receiving yards, touchdowns … that’s what makes a tight end popular. Keeping a defensive end away from the quarterback or opening up holes for the running back are simply bonuses, at least to some.
But don’t tell that to Dayton Valentine, a junior tight end at Kansas State who has risen to captain and cracked the John Mackey Award watch list a year after catching (get this) two passes for eight yards.
“I think more tight ends should want to be blocking tight ends,” Valentine said last week at Big 12 media days in Frisco, Texas. “It is fun to put your glove in the ground and get a little nasty with the big boys down there.”
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Valentine is happy to take on a larger role within K-State’s passing game if coaches ask him to do so, but he says he would rather set up a touchdown run with a punishing block than run slip by defenders and catch a touchdown pass.
“I like football because it is a physical game,” Valentine said. “Something that I took pride in is being able to be physical and block. The coolest thing about blocking is you work with Dalton (Risner) and Scott (Frantz) and then you get to the next level and you see Alex (Barnes) or Jesse (Ertz) run right by you and get after it. Maybe I have got the wrong thoughts about being a tight end, but I like making holes for my teammates.”
That passion is evident on Saturdays. Few tight ends take blocking more seriously than Valentine. The 6-foot-4, 270-pounder from Baldwin City is so good at the line of scrimmage that K-State coaches named him offensive player of the week after three games last season, and he only caught a pass in one of them.
Before the season, coaches went so far as to approach Valentine about switching positions to guard. He took the proposition seriously. With a wide body and a wing of span of nearly 7 feet, he mentally prepared to practice with the offensive line when it got off to a rocky start. But once K-State’s front five found its groove, and matured into one of the Big 12’s best blocking units, he returned his focus exclusively to tight end. Not that there’s a huge difference, the way he plays.
“If we have a play where we don’t have a good gain everyone in the huddle is saying, ‘We need to run that again, because we know we can do it,’ ” Valentine said. “The whole mindset of our offensive line is we want to be tough and we really want to come out here and dominate in the running game.”
Though Valentine is content to block on most plays, calling himself “a small tackle,” his teammates hope he gets some exposure in the passing game this season.
“If they give him the chance, I think he will be a great receiver,” senior linebacker Trent Tanking said. “I’m telling you, Dayton is athletic and he has a big wingspan. He makes great grabs in practice all the time. People discount it because of how good a blocker he is, but when they call his number he will let you know the kind of hands he has.”
The hard part will be finding the best times to call his number. The Wildcats have rarely utilized their tight ends as extra receivers under coach Bill Snyder, and that is unlikely to change given their run-first offense. But if K-State finds itself going against zone pass coverage, quarterback Jesse Ertz says he won’t hesitate to look Valentine’s way.
“Dayton does a good job, it’s just a matter of last year we got a lot of man, because we ran the ball a lot,” Ertz said. “Just because he’s not getting the ball doesn’t mean he’s a bad tight end or a bad pass-catcher. There will be scenarios where we will have the opportunity to throw the ball to Dayton. We could do more with him and should do more with him.”
You won’t hear Valentine make the same plea.
Is he willing to boost K-State’s passing game as a receiver? Yes. Is he happy blocking 95 percent of the time? You bet. He won’t change his old-school style anytime soon.
Kellis Robinett: @kellisrobinett