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Tank Dell leads revamped Houston receiving corps through spring ball

Dell looks to build on dominant 2021 campaign while surrounded by a new cast of receivers.

NCAA Football: Birmingham Bowl-Houston at Auburn Marvin Gentry-USA TODAY Sports

Nathaniel “Tank” Dell did it all in 2021. The former FCS wideout transferred into the program in 2020 and enjoyed a strong first year on campus. But his second season as a Cougar featured spectacular play after spectacular play, and the statistics back it up. Dell finished 12th in the FBS with 1,329 receiving yards, 13th with 90 receptions, and eighth with 12 touchdowns. As a sophomore, he concocted four games of 150 receiving yards or greater, including an unforgettable 165-yard, 3-touchdown performance to upend a 7-0 SMU squad.

Apparently, that wasn’t enough for everyone to take notice. @PFF_College posted a tweet on March 25, which is now serving as a motivational tool for Dell.

Three days later, the same account labeled Dell as a ‘dark horse’ receiver, despite astronomical production in 2021.

“Myself personally, I feel like I’m not a dark horse receiver,” Dell said in response to the tweet. “Everybody has their own opinion. I can’t go in and change that. I quoted it and said, ‘Noted’ because it’s always in the back of my mind. I even got the list on my phone screen saver so I wake up and look at it every day. All it does is just motivate me... add extra fuel to the fire. That just shows me I didn’t do enough last year, so whatever goals I set last year, I have to up it and complete it.”

How does Dell improve from his sensational campaign? The receiver listed eliminating all drops, improving route running, and putting on additional muscle as offseason goals. And heading into his third year as a Cougar, serving as one of the ambassadors of team culture is also a daily objective for him.

“I’ve been ready going into a role where I have to be more vocal,” Dell said. “We had Marcus (Jones), Pepe (Damarion Williams), all the vocal guys left. Last year, that wasn’t really my role. I was just making plays. I was vocal last year but I wasn’t as vocal.”

Outside of Dell, the receiving corps looks quite different which unquestionably expands his leadership role. Houston’s second leading receiver from 2021, Jeremy Singleton (29 receptions, 493 yards, 5 touchdowns) transferred to Georgia Southern. Jake Herslow (36 receptions, 480 yards, 5 touchdowns) stepped up as a key contributor late in the season and his late-game heroics won the Birmingham Bowl for the Cougars, but he declared for the NFL Draft. Jaylen Erwin and Marcus Jones are two other Houston receivers who corralled at least 10 receptions and are currently in the draft evaluation process.

That leaves KeSean Carter (26 receptions, 331 yards, 1 touchdown) as the only 100-yard receiver returning to the lineup alongside Dell. However, Houston addressed this lack of veteran receivers by consulting the transfer portal. In mid-January, the Cougars utilized the portal to lure in Sam Brown, who caught 10 passes for 108 yards in two seasons at West Virginia. Brown complements the 5’10” Dell with a contrasting 6’2”, 200 pound frame.

“Sam Brown is a bigger body receiver,” Dell said. “He’s been making a lot of plays this spring. He can jump over you, he can come off the line with his release game, he can catch the ball very well. His attitude — he just wants to come out and get better every day.”

AutoZone Liberty Bowl - West Virginia v Tennessee
Sam Brown caught three passes for 42 yards in West Virginia’s 2020 Liberty Bowl win over Army.
Photo by Wesley Hitt/Getty Images

Also in mid-January, Houston brought in Joseph Manjack IV from USC. The local Tomball, TX native caught seven passes for 67 yards as a true freshman in the Pac-12. Manjack has been cited as somebody who is up for any task, and he’ll aim to amplify his offensive role while playing roughly 35 miles away from his hometown.

“Manjack, he’s a special player. He’ll do whatever the coach asks,” Dell said. “He’ll come down and block in the box, go outside at receiver and go over the top of somebody, run routes. He has crazy hands — the man doesn’t even wear gloves.”

Along with the transfers, Houston is already benefiting from the presence of mid-year enrollee Matthew Golden. Golden, who held offers from Cincinnati, Baylor, TCU, and Arkansas, averaged 118 yards per game at Houston-area Klein Cane High School in the fall. Just several months after putting on a high school uniform, he is already making a smooth transition to FBS-level practices by exhibiting his impressive athleticism.

“Matthew Golden, he’s been coming along,” Dell said. “He’s a freshman and at first, you’ve got to get used to the system and stuff like that. But he’s coming into his own man. The back end of spring ball, he’s been making a lot of plays.”

Outside of the wide receivers, Houston features an offensive skill position player who is certain to make rounds in the receiving game. Alton McCaskill impressed as a true freshman with 961 yards and 16 touchdowns out of the backfield. While he hauled in 21 receptions for 113 yards, he hopes to amplify his impact as a receiver in 2022 and mold his game after a former Heisman Trophy finalist.

“I definitely want to get more shiftier in the flats, more like Christian McCaffrey,” McCaskill said. “When he gets the ball in the flats, he’s very different. Untouchable almost. I’ve been trying to put in a lot of work to get some good footwork in for that, and I just want to look like him when I get the ball in the flats.”

Dell, McCaskill, and Houston’s new receivers will have the opportunity to showcase the work they’ve put in this spring on Friday, April 8 at the annual Red & White Game at TDECU Stadium.