With redshirt juniors Noah Togiai and Tuli Wily-Matagi set to return, Oregon State had two seasoned-veterans to anchor the tight end position for the 2018 football season.
Togiai has played in 23 games with 48 career catches for 565 yards and four touchdowns. He led the Beavers with 34 catches for 461 yards last season.
Wily-Matagi added six catches for 54 yards and played a key role as a blocker.
But just a few days into fall camp, Wily-Matagi decided to retire for personal reasons, leaving the Beavers extremely young at the position.
To make matters a little more dire, Togiai (6-foot-4, 241 pounds) has been recovering from a foot injury he suffered in the last season’s finale and had been a bit limited the first part of camp.
The only other tight end who has played in a game is redshirt senior Quinn Smith (2-4, 247), who has mainly competed on special teams.
That means tight ends coach Brian Wozniak’s job got a little tougher in getting the younger players up to speed quicker than originally anticipated.
All five other tight ends on the roster are either redshirt freshmen — Bryce Bramscher (6-5, 219), Jack Holum (6-5, 254) and Ralph Yaufa’asau (6-4, 216) — or true freshmen — Isaiah Smalls (6-4, 222) and Teagan Quitoriano (6-6, 252). Yaufa’asau has missed all of fall camp with an injury.
“I think we’re coming along and those young guys are being forced to play, do some things a little bit earlier in their career than you’d like,” offensive coordinator Brian Lindgren said Monday evening. “But I think they’re talented guys. You look at Teagan and Isaiah Smalls, the two freshmen, I’ve been pretty pleased with (them). Bryce Bramscher has been getting a lot of reps with the group.
“Coach Woz is doing a nice job with them. We’ve been getting Noah back at times and we’re really excited about that and just see how we can utilize him.”
Togiai, who went the entire practice on Monday and says he expects to be ready to go come the Sept. 1 opener at Ohio State, likes what he has seen from the young guys.
“We’ve got some athletic guys, we’ve got some big guys in Teagan and Jack,” he said. “They’re working hard every day and I’m just excited to see what they do this year.”
While he has been limited early in fall camp and missed all of the spring recovering, Togiai has used that time to get more acquainted with the freshmen.
“I’ve been sidelined since December so it gave me a lot of time to just sit down and talk with them, not necessarily show them by example but try to sit down and teach them what I could,” he said. “It’s been fun. I’ve gotten to know them a lot and it’s a fun group of guys to be around.”
Quarterback Conor Blount, who is battling for the starting position, credits Togiai for helping with the growth of the younger players.
“Noah’s a huge piece of that crew,” he said. “And even when he hasn’t been participating he’s been an active teacher and teaching those guys. There’s a lot of talent in that room and I see a lot of those young guys, Isaiah, Bryce, some of those guys that have a lot of skill and can build off of learning from a guy like Noah.”
Getting those players up to speed as soon as possible will be helpful in the success of the offense. Lindgren said the Beavers would like to use one or two tight ends at times.
“It obviously gives you a little power element in the run game, then slide those guys out in the pass game,” Lindgren said. “With Noah and a guy like Isaiah Smalls, sometimes they can help you vertically and people don’t always track those guys in the pass game. They give you a little bit bigger target to throw to, particularly in the red zone.”
Smalls has looked good the first week and a half of camp and has been a good target for the quarterbacks and could fill the void left by Wily-Matagi’s departure. He and Togiai could provide a good 1-2 punch.
Regardless of who steps in, finding depth at that position will be crucial.
“I think it’s really important to have a guy who not only can block but then split out and that’s kind of what Noah’s been,” Blount said. “So to have a guy who can do both and knows just exactly what they need to do to be successful out on Saturday’s, that’s huge for them to learn. I think those guys are doing a good job of soaking up all that and taking it and putting it out in the field.”