Growing into his position
HUNTINGTON - Harold "Gator" Hoskins remembers when he was moved to tight end early in his Marshall career.
Really, really early in his career, as in August 2010.
He had just started his first preseason camp, as a wide receiver, when coach Doc Holliday and staff shifted him and C.J. Crawford to tight end. With both in the 200-pound range, it signaled a shift in that position from the burly Lee Smith prototype.
At the time, it was an unpleasant surprise.
"At first, I wasn't too pleased about it," Hoskins said Monday. "Talked to my coaches, talked to my parents [and they told me] 'Come in there, play hard.' They recruited me as an athlete [in other words, position unspecified] and they can move me wherever they want to. I'm a football players, so I felt like I could play anywhere."
Now a 6-foot-2, 240-pound junior, the Gainesville, Fla., native has not only settled into the position but has become the Thundering Herd's second-leading scorer, behind kicker Justin Haig. Hoskins has scored seven touchdowns, on plays ranging from 1 to 72 yards, and his 42 points is most in the nation by a tight end.
He probably should have a touchdown in all six games. Not forgotten is a 52-yard dash off a swing pass, reduced to a 12-yard gain by a questionable holding call on the edge against Antavious Wilson.
With that in mind, it is no surprise that he was named Monday to the John Mackey Award's midseason watch list. He was one of 26 so honored.
"Gator's a workaholic," said Marshall quarterback Rakeem Cato. "He's joking and kidding around with everybody, saying he has the best hands and he's the best player on offense. He's always joking around like that. He's a great player overall, a great blocker, a great tight end."
With an otherwise ordinary 18 receptions for 207 yards, Hoskins has scored touchdowns in the last five games. He scored three times at Purdue, from 12, 28 and 1 yards, and cut loose for a 72-yard TD catch and run against Tulsa.
That came on a third-and-5, with Cato scrambling to buy time.
"I ran my route and I looked back at Cato and saw him starting to scramble my way [so I] turned up and ran down the field," Hoskins said. "My defender, he started looking at Cato to stop the run, and [Cato] popped it right over his head, and I just ran."
Forty pounds heavier, he still can run. Apparently, he won't let his teammates forget it, either.
"He's always joking around, saying if he gets in the open field like that, nobody can catch him," Cato said. "I think it's the second time; the first time he did it was the West Virginia game, nobody caught him. So now he's joking around, especially with Tommy [Shuler], when Tommy got caught [on a 57-yard gain against Western Carolina]."
"He's been talking about his speed, saying he's fast," Shuler said. "He can outrun a lot of people, and we've seen that on the field. I don't know if it's his game speed or what."
Being a quarterback in high school, Hoskins likes to jokingly critique Cato, too.
"Every practice, [when] I'm throwing the ball, he says he can throw it better than me," Cato said. "I tell Coach Petersen, 'Move his position to quarterback, we'll have a quarterback battle.'"
One other Conference USA tight end, Luke Willson of Rice, made the watch list.
Reach Doug Smock at 304-348-5130 or firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him at twitter.com/dougsmock.