CHAMPAIGN, Ill. (AP) — In Matt LaCosse's three seasons at Illinois, he's played with and followed in the footsteps of some talented tight ends, some of them good enough to land in the NFL.
But on Saturdays, the big receivers were seldom featured in the game plan. In 2012, Illini tight ends caught 23 balls and three touchdowns.
Last Saturday against Miami (Ohio), three Illinois tight ends combined for six catches, 82 yards and four back-breaking touchdowns in Illinois' 50-14 win. The touchdowns were a single-game school record.
LaCosse says it's not just a one-game change. He and fellow tight ends Evan Wilson, a senior, and junior Jon Davis are, for the first time since they came to Champaign, an integral part of the offense. He says it's happened in part because of new offensive coordinator Bill Cubit's attack that's being widely credited with reviving the offense at Illinois (3-1) by confusing opponents with any number of looks.
"It's awesome, it's amazing how multiple things can be," LaCosse said. "It's a blast to play in when all three tight ends can have a touchdown."
LaCosse said the tight ends have earned their way into Cubit's game-day plans, too.
"I think our tight ends have shown that we could play and that we're pretty good," he said.
Illinois has recruited strong talent at tight end for at least the past seven seasons. Several, including New England Patriot Michael Hoomanawanui, went on to the NFL. In four seasons, Hoomanawanui caught 40 passes at Illinois for 490 yards and four touchdowns.
LaCosse said that, before this season, he sometimes thought the tight ends weren't used enough.
"You could say that. There were a few frustrations here and there," he said. "So it's nice to be used and be a focal point of the offense."
So far this season, Illinois' tight ends have combined for 21 catches, 256 yards and six touchdowns.
Cubit says the tight ends are a key piece of his offense, both by design and in how senior quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase makes on-field decisions.
"(Using them) gives your wideouts a little bit of a break so they're not out there trying to get open 40, 50 plays," Cubit said. "And then Nate — in that whole package, Nate's really in charge."