By GARY FAUBER
for the Daily Telegraph
One of the reasons Marshall’s offense is among one of the most potent in the nation has been the play of tight end Gator Hoskins. The Gainesville, Fla., native led all FBS tight ends in the nation last year with 10 touchdown receptions, and he is on pace to do it again this season.
The 6-foot-2, 244-pound senior has given quarterback Rakeem Cato yet another vital option in the passing game.
His productivity has earned him national recognition — Hoskins was named Tuesday as one of eight semifinalists for the John Mackey Award, given annually to the best tight end in college football.
“He’s become a great leader for us, from his play to the things he says in the locker room,” Thundering Herd coach Doc Holliday said Tuesday in his weekly press conference. “He’s helped fellow tight end Devon Johnson (a sophomore from Richlands, Va.) prepare. He’s a good player.
“You talk all the time about how (receiver Tommy) Shuler has that ‘it’ factor and finds ways to make plays. Gator is the same way. He’s a good football player and has a great feel for the game. When he gets the opportunity to make a play he usually does.”
Hoskins has been unstoppable lining up in the slot, particularly in the red zone, where he often creates mismatches. It’s no accident that nine of Hoskins’ 28 catches have resulted in six points for the Herd (7-3, 5-1 Conference USA), which will visit Florida International at 6 p.m. Saturday.
“He’s an athletic guy for a big-body guy,” Holliday said. “He can body up against people and go up and make plays. He’s good in the red zone area because of what he brings to the table with his athleticism. He can create some matchup problems with linebackers and safeties in those situations.”
Hoskins set a school record for tight ends last year with his 10 touchdowns, a mark he still has three games to pass again. He has 28 receptions for 455 yards and nine TDs.
Holliday likened the comfort level between Hoskins and Cato to that of former high school teammates Cato and Shuler.
“They have a feel for each other,” Holliday said. “Gator and Cato have been playing together for three years. Cato is a pretty smart guy and he’s going to throw it to the guys who are going to go make the plays. Gator seems to do that.”
Holliday credits tight ends coach Todd Hartley for developing Hoskins, who was originally recruited as a safety, into a more physical player, which could lead to more football beyond his college days.
“From the day I took this job I’ve always said it’s a personnel-driven game,” he said. “When you have pretty good players then you have a chance to score points and stop the defense. Those guys have a chance to go get some of the Chad Penningtons, Byron Leftwichs and Randy Mosses. There’s been a lot of those guys come through here.
“Hopefully, we are getting to the point where we can have a few more guys who are in that category.
“I’m not saying Gator is Randy, Chad or Byron. We’re getting better players coming through here that get an opportunity to, not only play at the collegiate level, but possibly the professional level.”
The three finalists for the Mackey Award will be announced Monday, with the winner announced Dec. 11.