On September 16, 2018, 49ers quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo threw a touchdown pass to tight end Garrett Celek in the third quarter to take a 20-10 lead over the Detroit Lions. When he approached the sideline after the drive, Garoppolo said to 49er tight end George Kittle, “What is it, like National Tight Ends Day?”
Kittle responded with his usual exuberance, informing Garoppolo that it was in fact a holiday. In typical tight end fashion, he went even further, declaring every week in the National Football League as National Tight Ends Day.
The NFL liked that, officially christening the fourth October of every season as “National Tight Ends Day” and players all around the league have been celebrating with touchdowns, pancake blocks and pass pro ever since.
Because tight ends, they wanna have fun.
“I think the tight end position has evolved into more of a fun position, like a backyard position where you are shaking going this way, then the next play you are wide open down the field or blocking some guy – it’s really just running around having fun,” explained Tulane tight end Will Wallace. “If you love football, then you love playing tight end.”
A simple yet beautiful sentiment. Much like the position itself, which until recently had been seen as more of a liability than a leg-up.
“Going back to my time in the league, it used to be really hard to sell guys that were just pass-catching tight ends in a draft room – they would have to be like a Kyle Pitts-like player in the pass game to really sell them to a staff because once you got your tight ends coach and your coordinator involved, if the guy couldn’t block people, they wanted nothing to do with him,” remembered Executive Director of the Senior Bowl Jim Nagy.
“Even if they were good, like you saw a guy that could catch 50 or 60 balls, they wanted nothing to do with him if he couldn’t block. They were like ‘Jim, if you put that guy on the field, we would be totally tipping our hand, everyone would know what we were going to do, everyone knows this guy can’t block.’”
Fortunately, the position has evolved from just another guy lined up out wide to a player who can stay in pass protection, create rushing lanes, run routes from inline and hit the slot. They probably make the coffee and refill the water coolers as well. All with the biggest smile on their face and a child-like appreciation for the game.
“I think tight end is really the best position in football,” declared Colorado State tight end Trey McBride. “I might be a little biased but it’s one of those positions where you get to do it all. Besides the quarterback, I think it’s the hardest position in football because really you have to know everything that’s going on. You have to know how to run-block, understand all the run schemes, help in pass protections and then you also have to know routes like a wide receiver.”
A basic understanding of the game won’t cut it. Well-rounded, multi-dimensional, spatio-temporal – call it what you want, but tight ends are way more than just football players, both on and off the field. Which is why many, like McBride were standout athletes in several sports in high school.
“Our tight end Isiah Likley was a big receiver and basketball player in high school and he was kind of a ‘tweener – he didn’t have the top end speed to be the receiver but he didn’t have the size at that time to come in and play tight end early and I’m thankful that he got kind of under recruited and Coastal Carolina was there and he came to us,” said Chanticleers Co-Offensive Coordinator Willy Korn. “It makes it so much fun to game plan when you have a guy like that.”
Wallace, McBride and Likley are all key contributors for their respective squads. Wallace and fellow tight end Tyrick James lead the Green Wave in touchdowns with three apiece. Likley is second on the team in receiving for Coastal, averaging 77.86 yards per game and recording a team-high eight touchdowns. And McBride might be the most impressive of all – the senior has 55 catches for 637 yards, averaging 91 receiving yards per game for the Rams.
In fact, there are only two tight ends in the country who have 70 percent or better of their snaps come from inline that also have over 300 receiving yards – Virginia’s Jelani Woods and McBride, per CSU Athletics.
“He’s been at the top of the board since the spring and he’s done nothing to change it,” said Nagy of McBride. “He was a ridiculous high school athlete – he set the record for home runs, points in basketball, yards or something and then on defense he blocked 16 punts. His numbers in high school in all three sports were just off the chain.”
Tight ends truly do it all, not just on the field but off as well.
“They are just very low maintenance guys,” said Nagy. “You always count on your tight end room to be squared away. We talked about that in our meeting as a staff, someone brought it up – they were like ‘man the tight ends are always such great dudes!’ And it’s true.”
Nagy shared a story of a tight end that let him stay in his basement when the former NFL scout was searching for place to live during his first job in the League. They are still best friends to this day and the player even ended up in his wedding.
“You can talk to anyone around football, that tight end room is usually one of the coolest rooms in the building,” claimed Nagy. “They’re glue guys, they are guys that can move across position groups, they have broad appeal.”
Tight ends just seem to be that dude. Maybe because they are having more fun than the rest of us – playing the game like its life and living life like it’s a game, 60 minutes at a time.
Even legislative officials in New Jersey agree the position is special. Senate President Steve Sweeney and Assemblyman Adam Taliaferro announced that they will introduce legislative resolutions in recognizing football tight ends, celebrating the team spirit, hard work and versatility of players who contribute to the success of their teams in a sport that values teamwork by proclaiming October 24 Tight Ends Day.
“Tight ends just get along with everybody,” summed up Wallace. “It really is the people’s position.”