The Stanford Cardinal found a new level of success this season as they won the Pac 12 championship, securing their first bid to the Rose Bowl where they overcame the Wisconsin Badgers 20-16. The key to their success was a strong running game that set up a dangerous play-action passing game that used their tight ends Zach Ertz and Levine Toilolo to their fullest potential. With both leaving Palo Alto for the NFL next season, the Cardinal will have to find someone to replace them. Who will they turn to?
Whoever it is will have some massive shoes to fill. The pair combined for 93 catches for 1,231 yards and 10 touchdowns. Ertz led the team with 69 receptions, 898 yards and six touchdowns and was named as a Mackey Award finalist as the best tight end in the nation. The 6-foot-8 Toilolo was a massive target in the passing game for freshman Kevin Hogan.
In their place, the Cardinal will have a few options to choose from. Senior Ryan Hewitt has found playing time as the team’s starting fullback, but he was originally recruited as a tight end. He’s shown a nice ability to catch the football over the last two seasons, catching 48 passes for 411 yards and six touchdowns. He was a major part of the passing game in 2011 when he caught 34 passes and five of his touchdowns, and he could be again if he makes the move to tight end.
Other options on the roster include 6-foot-7 freshman Luke Kaumatule, who has shown a lot of potential this year in practices, and sophomore receiver Devon Cajuste could also make the transition down to tight end. At 6-foot-4 and 216 pounds, he would be a smaller option, but would bring the pass catching abilities to the position that the team has come to rely on.
The decision of Ertz and Toilolo to depart didn’t catch the coaching staff off-guard and they’ve actively been recruiting their replacements. Three-star recruit Eric Cotton, of Nampa, Idaho, has already committed to Stanford and could contribute early in his career as he adds bulk to his frame. The 6-foot-5, 235 pound recruit has shown excellent hands in his high school career which makes him an ideal fit in the pass-catching tight end role Stanford is looking for.
Losing two players the caliber of Ertz and Toilolo will not be an easy thing to overcome, but the Stanford Cardinal have shown an innate ability to reload year after year. Will one of these options step up to the plate and be the next great Stanford tight end? Or will Kevin Hogan have to look elsewhere for his go-to receiver in 2013?