Sam Cotton feels a sense of pride knowing he’s one of three former Lincoln Southeast football players figuring into Nebraska’s tight end rotation this season.
“We’re all cut from the same cloth and we all have that same attitude, that same drive,” said Cotton, a Husker junior and 2012 Southeast graduate. “It’s nice to be surrounded by guys who came from the same place.”
Cotton would feel even better — coach Mike Riley, too, for that matter — had the injury bug not bitten one of his longtime teammates.
Trey Foster, another junior from Southeast, hurt his ankle Monday, or only two days after the walk-on had been rewarded with a scholarship.
“You hate to see that,” Cotton said of Foster’s injury. “I mean, the guy’s had a great camp. He had a great spring, too. He’s really earned that scholarship over the past few years, too. We were really, really happy for him. Congratulations to Trey. That’s big-time. I mean, Southeast guy, too. I’m proud of that.”
Riley said Foster is “week-to-week” with his injury, meaning he’s questionable to play in Nebraska’s Sept. 5 opener against BYU.
Between that, and the uncertainty of which positions will be affected by five player suspensions that Riley verified two weeks ago, tight end depth could be a concern to start the season.
Cotton, for one, is ready to do his part.
“It’s football. Next man up,” Cotton said. “Somebody goes down, it’s the next guy up. It’s that simple.”
No depth chart has been released, although it’s likely you would find junior Cethan Carter, who made eight starts last season, and Foster, who started last year’s game against Northwestern, near the top.
Cotton and senior David Sutton, yet another Southeast graduate, can also be considered in the mix for considerable playing time.
Tight end, of course, is a key cog in Riley’s offense, which leans more toward West Coast and less toward the spread attack Cotton and his teammates have grown used to playing.
The adjustment, Cotton said, has gone well.
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“We’ve really taken things in stride and we’re moving in with this new offense and we’re really getting the hang of it,” Cotton said. “It feels good getting our role in the passing game kind of back, you know? We definitely still have a big role in the run game as well.
"Like they said at the beginning, they wanted their tight ends to be Renaissance men, and it really feels like we’re coming into that.”
The 6-foot-4, 250-pound Cotton said he weighs about the same as last season but feels a little faster.
“I didn’t want to get too big and be only a blocking tight end,” said Cotton, whose brother, Ben, was a staple at tight end from 2009-12. “I wanted to stay versatile so I could help the offense in two areas of the game and not just one.”
Yes, Cotton loves being a blocker, but he looks forward to getting more opportunities in the passing game. He has six career catches, three of them for touchdowns.
“If we’re getting open, we’re getting the ball. If we’re not getting open, then we’re not getting the ball,” Cotton said, noting the incentive for tight ends to get open isn’t any greater now than in previous seasons.
“It was always, ‘Get open, you’re going to get the ball.’ It’s just different offense, different scheme of things,” Cotton said. "Things are just a little different. It’s not like I’m going to say we didn’t get the ball enough last year. We always want the ball more.”
Going into the season, first-year offensive coordinator Danny Langsdorf felt “pretty solid” about having three tight ends, including Carter at the H-back position.
“We’d really like to move him around, and he’s an athletic guy that can run. He can be a great mismatch on linebackers, and safeties. So I like him as a weapon,” Langsdorf said.
“And I think Cotton and Sutton will be good grinders at that tight end spot, that they can line up and beat a linebacker one-on-one, but they can also bang on a defensive end and give us some lead in the run game.”
Langsdorf also mentioned using fullback Andy Janovich in a role similar to that of Carter.
With depth a question mark, Riley reiterated the importance of Janovich.
“Our adjustment would be using the fullback a little bit more,” Riley said. “Andy is a good football player. So, actually, that part of it is a positive thing. So we can morph those two groups together with a fullback and a tight end, or an H-back and a tight end. We can do some of the same stuff.”