FEATURE: Re-Defining the Position
Sept. 30, 2016
By Dylan Edwards, OleMissSports.com
Ole Miss has not had a shortage of talent at the tight end position over the years. First team All-Americans like Rufus French, Kris Mangum and Wesley Walls all produced at a high level while Vaught-Hemingway Stadium was their home. However, none have produced like senior Evan Engram.
The Powder Springs, Georgia, native has caught more passes and picked up more receiving yards than any of them, and he did it in his first three seasons on campus.
“It means a lot,” Engram said. “There has been so much talent that has come through this university, especially at the tight end position. Even the alumni that come back here, having their respect means a lot. Being able to have my name in that category is an honor.”
Engram was a part of the highly touted 2013 class that began Ole Miss’ ascent to the national stage. The skill at the top of the class was obviously high, but Engram became one of the real gems of those signings.
“For me to come in here as a three-star guy that nobody really knew about, I worked my way up and gained the confidence of the coaches and my teammates,” Engram said.
He’s been a nightmare for defenses from the beginning, but he’s just continued to get better at finding the soft spots of their zones.
“My thinking and decision making on the field has improved since I got here,” Engram said. “Growing into your body and getting stronger and faster is a part of life. Every athlete does that. I’m smarter on the field, and the game has slowed down so much. I can read defenses.”
The receptions and touchdowns are flashy and easy for fans to get excited about. However, a tight end’s job goes beyond contributing to the passing game by running routes. Engram places a large emphasis on his ability to block.
“I put a lot of pride in my blocking,” Engram said. “I get really excited if I make a big block or if a run springs because of my block. I get as excited as scoring a touchdown or catching a pass. That means a lot to me to do what’s asked and doing what my team needs the most. Blocking is a huge part of that.”
Of course, Engram is not the prototypical size for a tight end that spends a lot of time blocking. He is smaller at 235 pounds. What he lacks in weight, he makes up for with drive and intensity.
“You have to definitely have the right mentality with blocking,” Engram said. “I’m an undersized tight end, not the traditional 6-6, 250-pound guy. You’re going up against big defensive linemen and linebackers. You have to have a dog mentality with getting physical at this level.”
That mentality is one he’s had for a long time playing football. Even in high school, he was more than willing to lend a block. The problem was he didn’t always have enough weight to throw around. He’s become stronger as time has passed with him in Oxford, giving him the physical attributes to go with his physical mindset.
“In high school, we had a great running back,” Engram said. “We gave him the ball pretty much every play. Getting here was about getting stronger and gaining confidence in it. I was really undersized and struggled with the bigger guys when I first got here, but I had the mindset to get physical. “
Engram’s playmaking ability in the receiving game to go along with his ability to block makes him a real Swiss Army knife for Hugh Freeze’s offense. His versatility is not lost on his teammates, especially quarterback Chad Kelly.
“Evan’s a great player,” Kelly said. “You might as well call him a wide receiver and a tight end. He can do it all: run, catch, block. He’s the all-around athlete we need on this team.”
Engram has contributed in a large way since his first game as a Rebel in 2013, so opposing defenses are undoubtedly excited that this is his final go-round. In his senior season, the Ole Miss tight end has really stepped up as one of the central leaders. He’s making an effort to pass along the wisdom he’s accumulated while being such a thorn in defenses’ sides.
“I’ve grown a lot in terms of leadership,” Engram said. “Guys look for senior leadership in Chad, Quincy (Adebojeyo), me, and a lot of guys that have been around here. We have a lot of young guys playing. They look for guys to be a helping hand. It means a lot to me, and I take pride in being that for my team.”
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