How was Tyler Hoppes sitting at this time 12 months ago for the Nebraska football team? Backup. To the backup.
But when the Huskers began practice on Sunday, Hoppes was the most experienced Husker at the tight end position, which is really something considering he’s never caught a pass at the collegiate level.
And recent comments from coach Mike Riley make it seem that’s not as bad as it may sound. Riley said Hoppes may be able to be one of the best receiving tight ends he’s coached.
"That’s high praise, and I hope I can live up to that," Hoppes said.
The 6-foot-4, 245-pound senior from Lincoln has traveled an interesting path to get to where he figures to be a main target at tight end.
The previous Husker coaching staff didn’t offer Hoppes a walk-on spot on the team out of high school, and his stats (15 catches for 269 yards with two TDs as a senior) and honors (Lincoln Journal Star all-city) didn’t make it obvious that it should have.
So he started his college career playing at NCAA Division II Wayne State. He later transferred to Nebraska, where he was placed on the defensive side initially, before asking to move to tight end when Riley arrived in Lincoln.
Last year, the Huskers had three veteran tight ends in Cethan Carter, Sam Cotton and Trey Foster. Hoppes played in 10 games, but primarily on special teams.
The day before practice began this year, Hoppes reflected on what he had been thinking one year earlier, and how he’s attacking the start of this season.
“You know, I was fourth-string then, a year ago, and I kind of knew my role at that point, where I was a backup, backup. I didn’t think I was going to see much time,” Hoppes said. “Now my mindset is that I’m the guy; I’m the man to lead the tight end group, as far as catching the ball. And with a quarterback like this (Tanner Lee), I think we can do really good things.”
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Understandably so, Hoppes said his confidence was at its highest after the Red-White Spring Game, when he had four receptions for 66 yards.
“I caught some good passes from both quarterbacks, Tanner and Patrick (O’Brien), and just being out there playing in front of the crowd and getting used to that and having some game experience, that’s really where my confidence has been the highest,” Hoppes said.
Hoppes’ strong spring rolled into the summer, when he said they were working with the quarterbacks about three days per week.
His biggest strength, Hoppes said, is his route running and pass catching.
“We’re kind of getting some new plays in for the tight end, so I hope we can go out there and do them well,” Hoppes said. “The tight end screens are really nice. As far as being the No. 1 or No. 2 reads, and the over routes and the vertical routes, that gives us a really good chance to open up the middle of the field to get the receivers open as well.”
Lee and O’Brien have good arms and go through their progressions, Hoppes said. What Lee brings to the offense is exactly what you saw during the spring game, Hoppes said.
“He drops good passes, makes the smart read. We got a good quarterback lined up,” Hoppes said.
Now Hoppes has about five weeks before the first game to show Lee he can catch those passes like he did in the spring. And show Riley that he can match his high praise.
“I’m going to go out there and perform at a high level. That’s my expectation,” Hoppes said. “This spring really got me to have my confidence high with having a good spring ball, and a good spring game, so I think I’m going to plan to just keep it rolling here.”