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Countdown to kickoff: Austin Peay’s tight ends

Throughout fall camp, will take a look at each of the position groups as the Austin Peay State University football team goes through preparations for the 2020 season. In our final position preview before the Govs tee it up for real, we highlight a completely revamped tight end position that features a quartet of newcomers on the field and a new leader on the sideline.

By Casey Crigger

APSU Athletics Communications

CLARKSVILLE, Tenn. – Elijah Brown was the Govs’ main weapon at tight end during the 2019 season, appearing in all 15 games and scoring the first FCS Playoff touchdown in program history when he caught a one-yard pass from JaVaughn Craig in the first round matchup against Furman.

However, Brown is now an offensive tackle and with Hunter Scholato moving to the linebacker position, the Govs return zero tight ends from the 2019 OVC Championship roster.

First-year tight ends coach Deane Cheatham spent four years playing the positon at FCS powerhouse James Madison, where he racked up 1,110 yards and nine touchdowns in 34 career games. Cheatham then coached tight ends at his alma mater in 2016, linebackers at Marshall in 2017, and spent the past two seasons coaching cornerbacks at Western Carolina. Cheatham is now tasked with molding the Governors greenest position group entering the 2020 season.

“Coaching tight ends has been extremely rewarding for me, because I have the perspective of being right there where they are,” Cheatham said. “I have coached all of these different positions, but this is the first time I have come back and coached with the tight ends. I was with DBs, I have been with linebackers, and this is the only one where I can look into it and say, ‘Well, what are they seeing?’ and I think I have the ability to connect with the guys at this position. I have a good idea of what is going through their brains, because I was just there and it is really something that can’t be replicated as a coach.”

Arkansas State transfer Eugene Minter and Middle Tennessee transfer William Wilcox highlight Cheatham’s inaugural tight ends room. Minter was a three-star recruit out of Dodge City Community College, where he caught 24 passes for 316 yards in his final season as a Conquistador. Minter saw no action in his year at Arkansas State, but his combination of size and speed makes him an ideal redzone target for the Governors offense.

Wilcox, a Clarksville native and Northeast High School graduate, spent his first three seasons of college football playing linebacker at Middle Tennessee. Wilcox transitioned to the wide receiver position in the spring of 2019 in Murfreesboro before transferring to Austin Peay for his senior campaign.

“Overall it is an exciting group, we have a lot of playmaking ability and talent,” said Cheatham. “The exciting part is that they are all new, I don’t have a single returner coming back, and I think it is only unit on the roster that has no returning guys. It is a new group, but it is an extremely talented group; these guys have got a ton of ability. They have got size and length, and they are stronger than they even know. So when they get their hands on people and they are blocking with the proper technique, it makes for an exciting deal.”

The freshman duo of Brandon Lanier and Luke Springer round out the tight end room for the Governors. A Cincinnati native, Lanier was a Cincinnati Enquirer First-Team Division III All-Star Team selection at quarterback for Mount Healthy High School. Lanier also averaged 8.9 points and 6.3 rebounds on the basketball court during his senior season; his athleticism, coupled with his size should help him make the transition from the hardwood to tight end, which has been fruitful for many other tight ends across the game of football.

Brandon Lanier is a high school quarterback, so he is an athlete who is used to having the ball and making plays,” Cheatham said. “He is a physical player, but he is transitioning from quarterback to tight end. Luke Springer does have some tight end experience, but it is a lot of new stuff going on for our group. We are picking up on a new offense, and for some of us it is our first time are putting our hand in the dirt and being super physical.”

At Gallatin High School, Springer finished 2019 with eight catches for 229 yards and four touchdowns will playing wide receiver for the Green Wave. Springer was an All-Region 6-5A selection and was also named to the Mainstreet Preps All-Sumner County Team, he also played baseball during his prep career.

“Tight end is a hybrid role, like an all-terrain being,” said Cheatham. “We are going to be flexed out, we are going to be in the core, and we are going to be on the line. As a tight end in our offense you are a receiver, you are a running back, you are a fullback, you are a tight end – you are all those positions. So it takes a lot mentally to slow that down, but we have to have the ability to do a multiplicity of things.”

2020 Returnees / 2019 Stats

Elijah Brown (Sr.) / 15 games, 4 catches, 61 yards, 1 touchdown (transitioned from tight end to offensive line for the 2020 season)

Hunter Scholato / 2 games (transitioned from tight end to linebacker for the 2020 season)

2020 Newcomers

Brandon Lanier (Fr.)

Eugene Minter (R-Jr.) / Transferred from Arkansas State

Luke Springer (Fr.)

William Wilcox (Sr.) / Transferred from Middle Tennessee

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