ISU junior tight end Dylan Soehner helps clear a path for the offense in a game against Kansas. (Photo courtesy Cyclones.com)
AMES — “Sweet block,” Iowa State tight end Dylan Soehner said to Charlie Kolar.
“Sweet block,” Kolar, a fellow tight end, fired back.
Both defense-gashing hits came on the first play of practice Wednesday, but it’s Soehner’s steamrolling of a would-be tackler that really got the collective blood pumping.
“He just trampled some kid,” the Cyclones’ most senior tight end, Chase Allen, said. “That gets the offense fired up.”
Becoming proficient at blocking is what helped turn ISU’s tight ends group from an afterthought to a relative strength and, now, maybe even a focal point in all phases of the offense in 2019.
In 2017, the unit totaled a mere five catches. In 2018, that number ballooned to 25 — and four touchdowns (three for Kolar). In 2019, Allen, Kolar and Soehner, among others, are poised to join the receiver ranks as trusted aerial targets of quarterback Brock Purdy in tense situations.
“I like the guys in that room,” said Cyclones recruiting coordinator and tight ends coach Alex Golesh. “I think we’ve gone from being a weak link in a lot of ways and trying to patch holes to (being) a really sufficient group of guys that can help this offense and are continuing to evolve. I don’t think we’ve arrived from any stretch, but I think we’ve got a bunch of guys in there now that we feel like can help us.”
Allen and Kolar are the obvious headliners when it comes to catching passes, but Soehner’s turning heads, as well, as he juggles the ‘F’ position duties Sam Seonbuchner shouldered so well during his ISU career with more standard tight end reps in the passing game.
“I’d say the toughest thing for me is it’s really skill specific and you’ve got to get a lot of work at things like that, while I’m trying to go with the Ys and I’m trying to do route work with Chase and Charlie and trying to perfect that part of my game, too,” Soehner said. “So kind of balancing them both is kind of the hardest part for me — to get my technique for the F stuff while I’m trying to keep up with the Ys, too.”
Soehner’s so versatile he’s trusted to be able to thrive despite the diverse workload.
He’s a towering six-foot seven-inches tall and even though he’s listed at a hulking 270 pounds, he feels as spry as he has in his Cyclones career.
“It’s been a really good offseason for me,” Soehner said. “I’m like the lightest I’ve ever been and the strongest I’ve ever been, so for me to get out there and kind of show that and even through the first few practices of camp, I can tell that I’m stronger. I can, like, pick these guys up and move them. That’s a really big thing for me. It’s the first time in my career I’ve felt that confident in it and whether I’m that much stronger or better at blocking or not, the confidence, that goes a long ways out there, so I’m looking forward to it a lot.”
So is Golesh — and the team in general.
Soehner’s size sets him apart on paper. His athleticism separates him from other big guys once plays start unfolding on the field.
“He can run,” Golesh said. “He was our special teams player of the year last year. He was on every unit. And at the end of the year he was playing forty-some snaps on offense and thirty-some snaps on special teams and still running. He can run, run. I guess somebody at (270 pounds) and 6-7 usually doesn’t run like that, but he can run. He’s physical. He’s smart. He’s becoming a complete football player.”
And part of a complete unit poised to turn heads not just as capable blockers, but as mismatches in all aspects of the passing game, too.
“There’s definitely a difference between real confidence and fake confidence,” said Allen, a redshirt junior who’s battled an array of injuries in his career, but hauled in a 28-yard reception in the Alamo Bowl last season. “And I feel like there’s a lot of teams out there that are promoting fake confidence, but as a tight end group, when we line up against guys like JaQuan Bailey every day and have to block him and have to run routes off of Greg Eisworth — and if we’re able to succeed doing that, it gives up real confidence.”
Soehner agrees. From sweet blocks to being able to “run, run,” his journey from intriguing situational backup toward becoming a “complete player” helps create considerable excitement for what the entire tight end group can achieve in 2019.
“We’re super confident right now,” Soehner said. “There’s a little bit of swag about us. We’re kind of having fun with it and looking forward to kind of taking more of a leadership role on the team as a position group than kind of how we had been in the past where maybe we were not as productive in the offense as people would like to see and not as involved as people would like to see. So we’ve kind of taken it and ran with it a little bit, so it’s a lot of fun.”
That’s maybe not so much fun for defenders — even those wearing the same color jersey. But it certainly should be enjoyable for fans to watch once the tight ends turn their blocking and pass catching skills toward foes, not friends.
“I’ve always kind of been like an underdog guy, like never really the spotlight guy, so I’ve kind of found my reps where I can find them and blocking was a big part of that,” said Soehner, who made one catch last season. “I’ve enjoyed it and I still do today.”