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Football: Forsyth County witnessing tight end renaissance in 2021
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From left, South Forsyth's Mason Capers, West Forsyth's Cooper Johnson, West Forsyth's Oscar Delp, North Forsyth's Riley Smith and Lambert's Luke Logan, are some of the top tight ends in Forsyth County. - photo by David Roberts

Oscar Delp, Mason Capers, Riley Smith, Cooper Johnson and Luke Logan.

Jot down those names on a piece of paper, put it in a drawer and set a reminder to look up those names in five years. Chance are they’ll each be at the tail end of a collegiate career by then, perhaps prepping for a chance to play professional football.

One of the more traditionally overlooked positions in football is undergoing a renaissance of sorts, both locally and nationally.

“I think you’re starting to see more teams bringing that tight end back, whether they put him attached in a three-point stance or whether they flex him out,” West Forsyth head coach Dave Svehla said. “If you’ve got a good one, it can be a real mismatch for linebackers and safeties.”

Svehla knows from experience. He already favored incorporating the tight end as a key part of his offenses before he arrived at West last year.

Now, in his second year leading the Wolverines, Svehla has the luxury of folding one of the nation’s top tight ends into his offensive gameplans.

Delp led West in receiving last season, catching 43 passes for 730 yards and nine touchdowns. In the past year, he’s fielded offers from dozens of Division I schools, most recently trimming his top four to Clemson, Georgia, Michigan and South Carolina.

A modern tight end, Delp can line up in the backfield, go in motion before the snap, or most importantly, line up at any of the receiver positions.

“That’s kind of where I think Oscar can excel,” Svehla said. “If we can move him around the field, which we put him all over the place, we can try to find those mismatches that are in our favor.”

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West Forsyth tight end Oscar Delp leaps over Gainesville defenders while carrying the ball during the Wolverines' 14-7 win against Gainesville on Nov. 6, 2020 at City Park Stadium. - photo by By Scott Rogers

Many high school football teams consider themselves lucky to have one Division I tight end.

Svehla has two.

There’s Delp, then there’s Cooper Johnson, a Charleston Southern commit whose designation as a tight end hardly does him justice.

“Cooper is a grinder. Cooper will do anything you ask him to do and he’ll do it as hard as he can,” Svehla said. “He cares as much about the team as anything. He’s a fantastic kid. We play him kind of in an H role – we call it an ‘F,’ but he kind of plays an H-back role, so he’ll catch some balls out of the backfield. He blocks a lot, and he’s a really unselfish kid.”

The ‘F’ is perhaps the ultimate test of versatility. Johnson might be asked to line up as an H-back – in front and to the side of the quarterback in the shotgun – then chip, release and catch a pass and run upfield. Or he could be asked to line up in the slot, run a drag and clear out that side of the field for the running back.

It’s his flexibility that makes him an invaluable part of the offense.

North Forsyth head coach Robert Craft also has a penchant for incorporating the tight end into his offensive strategy.

“At every school I’ve been at the past 12 years as a head coach, our offense is always best when we’re really good at the tight end position. We’ve been fortunate at North to have a few good ones. It is a unique year in our county to have some great ones. You don’t have to go far for these college coaches to recruit some really good ones.”

In 2019, when the Raiders won seven games and reached the second round of the Class 7A playoffs, tight end Anthony Herock caught 43 passes for 554 yards.

North senior Riley Smith, who is also committed to Charleston Southern, caught 13 passes for 198 yards and three touchdowns last year for the Raiders and figures to be even more involved this season.

“Riley’s a unique one who’s a great player and had a breakout year last year,” Craft said. “[He] can really give defenses a lot of trouble on the perimeter, almost looking like a receiver, but then also … in the backfield blocking in a fullback set. Those guys allow you offensively to do so much.”

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North Forsyth junior Riley Smith carries the ball after a catch during the first half against Gainesville at City Park Stadium. - photo by By Scott Rogers

Last year in the NFL, the second-leading receiver in the league was a tight end, Travis Kelce [105 catches for 1,416 yards]. Add Darren Waller [107 catches for 1,196 yards] at No. 10 and two of the league’s top-10 receivers were tight ends.

Twenty-five years ago, Ben Coates 84 catches for 915 yards made him the top tight end in the league.

“It just allows you to be very versatile, very multiple,” Craft said. “We have three seniors – Jonah [Sexton] and Riley [Smith] being two of them, and Aaron Redd being another one who’s going to play both sides of the ball. You can really, I think, put a lot of pressure on a defense because you can line up in so many different ways. You can be in there in maybe a heavy set, you would say, with multiple tight ends, but at the same time we’ll have all of them in the game and spread them out.”

Lambert head coach Tommy Watson said he plans to factor in his tight ends heavily this season.

“We’ve actually got three or four tight ends that I feel really comfortable with,” Watson said. “Jake Johnson, a senior that plays linebacker, has done really well in OTAs. Brennan Schneider, another linebacker that plays over at tight end. We also have a move-in, a transfer that came over from Northview High School, a kid named Luke Logan. He’s a big, tall, athletic kid that can run and plays baseball as well. He’s going to raise some eyebrows in this region, hopefully, for us too.”

South Forsyth was great at utilizing the tight end last season, with Devin McGlockton catching 42 passes for 685 yards and nine touchdowns. Mason Capers moved from split end to tight end following McGlockton’s graduation and will play a key role in the War Eagles’ offense this year.

Capers, who is 6-foot-5 and bulked up to 220 pounds, picked up offers this summer from Mercer, Elon, Davidson and Culver-Stockton College.

Still, not every team uses the tight end all that often. For the ones that do, it allows their defense to gain firsthand experience in practice.

Facing a premier tight end in the middle of the season becomes a bit easier.

“Well, it’s kind of gone from an attached tight end to nobody running the tight end. And I’ve always run the tight end – that’s just my nature, that’s my pedigree [and] that’s where I come from. So, I’ve always run a tight end,” Svehla said. “A lot of teams don’t see a tight end very often. They struggle to defend it. It adds a gap on the run side. They have to gameplan for it every week.”

So, when you’re at a Forsyth County football game this season, keep your eye on the tight end. Even when they don’t have the ball, follow their path and watch what makes them so instrumental to the team.