LARAMIE — There’s no shortage of tight ends on Wyoming’s roster.
The Cowboys are losing Casper native Josh Harshman, their leading receiver at the position this season, but sophomore Nate Weinman and redshirt freshman Jackson Marcotte will be back after being part of the rotation this season. Treyton Welch played in eight games as a true freshman, and UW signed another tight end, incoming freshman Nick Miles, in December as part of its 2020 recruiting class.
But in their pro-style offense — one that still uses tight ends and fullbacks religiously and sometimes simultaneously — there’s no such thing as the Cowboys having too many.
“We’re trying to balance out as we utilize what we call 12 personnel (one running back, two tight ends) quite a bit to have two different type guys in there at times,” UW coach Craig Bohl said.
So, UW not only wanted to add another tight end to its 2020 class during the traditional signing period, but felt like it was a necessity. Bohl and his coaching staff went to the junior college ranks and found Colin O’Brien, who signed with the Cowboys after one season at Saddleback (California) College.
OBrien was rated the nation’s No. 7 junior tight end prospect in 247Sports’ composite rankings despite catching just seven passes for 62 yards for the Gauchos this season. But the 6-foot-5, 230-pound O’Brien has all the physical traits for the position as well as an athletic background that also appealed to the Cowboys.
A quarterback for part of his career at Mission Viejo High in California, O’Brien is making the kind of transition other tight ends have successfully made at UW. Seattle Seahawks tight end Jacob Hollister and Gillette native Austin Fort, who signed with the Denver Broncos as an undrafted free agent last year, were both high school quarterbacks before changing positions.
“Colin was originally a quarterback that has since made the transition to tight end for us,” UW recruiting director Ian McGrew said. “What really caught our eye with Colin was his size, athleticism and really his raw upside as a football player. We think he’s got a bright future, and the sky is the limit.”
O’Brien is a mid-year transfer and one of two signees who will go through spring practice as an early enrollee. It will give him an early start on competing at a position where UW has just nine combined receptions returning among Marcotte, Weinman and Welch.
Harshman finished this season with 20 receptions for 264 yards. He also tied for the team lead with two touchdown catches. O’Brien, who has three years of eligibility left, could find himself on the field sooner rather than later given the variety of multiple tight-end formations UW uses.
He adds more size to a position that’s got plenty of variety in that department. Marcotte and Weinman are both 6-6 or taller while Welch and Sheridan native Parker Christensen, who redshirted this season, are the shortest of the group at 6-3 and 6-2, respectively. Miles is listed at 6-5 and 250 pounds.
“We always try to find a couple of guys that are move guys and guys that have the physicality to block a defensive end at the point of attack,” Bohl said. “So you’re looking for a couple of different combinations there. We feel like he’s got the ability to run, but certainly he’s going to be a big, big strong guy.”
But just because O’Brien wasn’t targeted much in junior college doesn’t mean he doesn’t have the ability to take over for Harshman as the Cowboys’ primary receiver at the position. Other Football Bowl Subdivision teams thought he could fill that role, too. Boise State offered O’Brien a scholarship while Arizona State, UNLV, Colorado State and UMass showed interest during the recruiting process.
But it’s UW that will soon get to see just how versatile O’Brien’s skill set is.
“The reason why he didn’t have a lot of the catches (at Saddleback) was because he was in what we call 10 personnel. They didn’t operate with a tight end very much,” Bohl said. “But he’s an excellent player, and he really had some great, great options that were out there. So we’re pleased to have him.”