Over the next couple of weeks, the Catamount Sports Network and CatamountSports.com will feature positional previews of the 2016 Catamount football team. Each feature will contain the position write-ups from the 2016 Western Carolina media guide, and Catamount Sports Network All-Access video highlights and interviews with the position coach and student-athletes.
2016 Catamount Football Position Preview: the Tight Ends
The 2015 season was very productive for Western Carolina's tight ends as a part of the Catamount offense. WCU's tight ends accounted for four of the Catamounts' 16 receiving touchdowns a year ago with two returning seniors -- Tyler Sexton and Michael Helms Jr. -- headlining the group. A first team All-Southern Conference selection in 2015, Sexton is coming off a broken arm suffered at Texas A&M that sidelined him for the regular season finale and much of the spring.
Michael Helms Jr., has played in 34 career games over the past three seasons, collecting 311 receiving yards and two touchdowns. A sure-handed and heady player, Helms came to WCU as a quarterback before converting to wide receiver and ultimately tight end during his career. He has been used heavily in the offense's run game, but has shown flashes of brilliance and the ability to get down the field from the tight end position.
With Sexton out of action at the end of last season, Helms carried the banner over the final two games last fall including a career-high six receptions for 43 yards and a critical touchdown in the season finale road win over VMI.
Perhaps the flashiest of the tight ends, Sexton has a good blend of size, speed, and power. He finished fourth on the Catamount squad in 2015 with a career-best 31 receptions including three touchdowns -- tied for second on the team among receiving scores. He finished the year with 385 career receiving yards, averaging 12.4 yards per reception, the third-best average on the team.
Over 30 career games, Sexton -- a native of Flat Rock, N.C., -- has 43 receptions for 569 career yards with six TDs -- three in back-to-back seasons. Recording receptions in all but one game he played a season ago, Sexton turned in a career-best six catch, 102-yard performance in a home win over Samford in 2015.
Freshmen Aubry Payne (Locust Grove, Ga.) and Austin Phillips (Newland, N.C.), as well as converted receiver Randall Emerson will each be counted on to add depth to the position. At 6-4, 255 lbs., Payne has the look of a WCU tight end which often times serves the role of fullback, as well. With the two seniors in Helms and Sexton, this rookie duo will need to gain valuable experience in 2016 for the years to come.
ADDITIONAL TIGHT ENDS NOTES:
Western Carolina's tight ends combined for 435 receiving yards and four touchdowns during the 2015 season ... the tight ends accounted for 17-percent of WCU's aerial offensive attack;
WCU's tight ends play a pivotal role in the running game, helping the Catamounts' secure a 1,000-yard rusher a season ago.
2016 Practice Update (Fri., Aug. 12): Following a morning of meetings and time in the weight room, Western Carolina is scheduled to return to the practice field on Friday afternoon at 3:30 pm for a two-hour workout in shells. The Catamounts will hold their first scrimmage session of the preseason on Saturday afternoon beginning at 3 pm in Cullowhee.
WCU Football 2016 Position-by-Position Preview (tentative schedule):
Offensive Line - WATCH
Defensive Line - WATCH
Tight Ends - ABOVE
Linebackers - Aug. 15
Wide Receivers - Aug. 18
Special Teams - Aug. 19
Running Backs - Aug. 22
Defensive Backs - Aug. 23
Quarterbacks - Aug. 24