Idaho Vandals

Idaho tight ends could help Vandals score 40 points a game

Deon Watson
Deon Watson

The lofty goal is a matter of public record: Idaho football coach Paul Petrino wants his offense to score 40 points a game.

His players could either shy away from that expectation or they could relish the challenge as they prepare for their home opener against Montana State on Sept. 1.

“I think we definitely embrace that,” senior tight end Trent “Buck” Cowan said. “We have so many weapons. The amount of receivers that we have, and the depth and the competition, it’s definitely the best since I’ve been here.”

That depth also extends to the tight end position, where Cowan and senior Deon Watson (Coeur d’Alene High) are expected to play big roles this year.

Cowan hauled in 48 catches last season for 624 yards — fourth among FBS tight ends. In July, he was named to the watch list for the Mackey Award, which honors the top collegiate tight end.

Meanwhile, Watson had 42 receptions for 551 yards, including a career-best 124 yards in the game at Texas State.

It’s easy to see why tight ends coach Al Pupunu is excited about the players he’ll be coaching as he enters his seventh season with the Vandals.

“By far, this is the best I’ve felt going into a season,” said Pupunu, who played nine years in the NFL. “We’ve got a couple of good, older tight ends and a young guy (freshman Joe Wysocki) coming up who is pretty dang good, as well. So I’m very pleased with what I’ve seen here at this camp so far.”

Cowan began his career as a wide receiver, but he and his coaches were on the same page when the idea of moving to tight end came up after his sophomore season.

“I was like, ‘Great, I’ll take him. We’ll get that right,’ ” Pupunu said.

It turned out to be a good move for Cowan, but one that had a bit of a learning curve.

“If definitely worked out for me,” Cowan said. “But blocking as a receiver and blocking as a tight end is completely different, so that was my emphasis. I think I blocked OK last year, but I’m really trying to become a better blocker this year.”

In the offseason, Cowan added weight to his 6-foot-3 frame.

“He’s at about 230 right now, as opposed to last year, when he was at 215, 220,” Pupunu said. “He’s gotten stronger … and he’s better at the point of attack, blocking-wise.”

The trick is to remain a weapon as a receiver.

“I definitely feel good carrying this weight,” Cowan said. “I put on a lot of good weight. It wasn’t bad weight. … I definitely don’t feel like I’ve lost a step.”

That’s why Pupunu seems ready to call Cowan’s transformation a success.

“He’s just so dynamic,” Pupunu said. “He can do run-blocking and he can really run routes, and that just helps our offense.”

The same could be said for Watson.

“It’s nice to have two tight ends who can actually run and block at the line of scrimmage,” Pupunu said. “They’re not limited to certain situations. They both can do it all.”

With both tight ends making plays, perhaps that goal of Petrino’s isn’t all that far-fetched.

“(The offense) knows that we’re able to do that, put up 40 points a game,” Cowan said. “There’s no question in our minds that we have that capability. We just need to go out and execute.”