It happens to every freshman football player, that “welcome to college football” moment. It happened during practice last year for tight end James Carnie.
The team was running drills where the tight ends have to set the edge. He was tasked with blocking Caleb Tannor, Damian Jackson and Garrett Nelson during the drill. It was a big moment for the pass-catching tight end, a needed wake-up call for the young player from Norris High School.
“You get reps and then the confidence rises when you do block them,” Carnie said. “I’d say when I first got here in the spring, going against them I was like, ‘Oh, this could be interesting.’ Now all of us are confident and blocking all those defensive ends.”
This is Carnie’s second time going through spring practice with the Huskers. He graduated early so he could take part in spring ball last year. Carnie missed the first half of practices with a shoulder injury. Now he’s been mostly full-go.
“My confidence has risen from last year, graduating early and coming in here,” Carnie said. “The confidence is there and with the new playbook everybody’s going through it at the same time. It’s a lot easier because everybody has questions. The confidence is the big step compared to last year.”
Improving his blocking is the biggest thing that Carnie took away from his first season on campus. He isn’t alone in that. Each young tight end at Nebraska needs to continue improving in that area. Carnie has the willingness to block, but has to get stronger in the weight room. That will help him become more physical in the run game.
There are ways to work around blocking limitations as those tight ends get stronger. Tight ends coach Sean Beckton noted that Wednesday.
“I think we’re more pass catchers in Coach [Mark] Whipple’s offense,” Beckton said. “There are more plays designed to get the tight end the ball on certain plays. The quarterbacks’ read is right now to the tight end on more plays than we’ve had in the past. Which gives those guys an opportunity to be more involved in the passing game. So, in the running game, we’re gonna probably not put those guys in a bad situation.”
The message from Beckton to his young tight ends has been consistent. He wants them to focus on improving in the run game with striking defenders. He knows that his tight ends can run good routes and catch the football. The physicality of college football is where they need to make strides.
Carnie has been working with Beckton on the finer points of blocking. That’s where Carnie says he has made the most improvement over the last year. He didn’t have to learn those details in high school where he was used to being the biggest player on the field.
It has been a tough go for the tight ends this spring with injuries. The team has at least three tight ends missing spring or only getting limited work. That has allowed Carnie to see more reps this spring. It’s a good opportunity for him to improve and speed up his development. Through the injuries, the tight end room has grown closer than ever.
That starts with Carnie and his fellow 2021 tight ends AJ Rollins and Thomas Fidone.
“It’s definitely fun. All three of us graduated early. We’re all bonded. Travis [Vokolek], Chris [Hickman] we’re all tight. Tight squad. That’s what we call ourselves.”
Carnie finds himself getting more reps than anticipated this spring with the top units. That may serve him well in the long run.
Greg is the Recruiting Analyst for Hail Varsity and has covered Husker athletics since 2013. He has always had a passion for sports while growing up in the Chicago area. As he got older and had to hang up his cleats and sneakers, he realized his passion for sports went beyond just watching and attending games. He has covered many events from the Rose Bowl to championship boxing matches. If he’s not talking sports, he’s hovering over his grill. He is married to an amazing woman, Kim, and they have a dog that barks when Greg yells at the TV during games.