With 48 receptions, Chris Coyle is 9 short of Zach Miller's school record for catches by a tight end.
By TYLER LOCKMANFS Arizona
TEMPE, Ariz. -- Arizona State tight end Chris Coyle feels honored to even be mentioned in the same breath as former Sun Devil tight ends Zach Miller and Todd Heap, whose images adorn the walls of the tight end group's meeting room.
But as Coyle closes in on
ASU's all-time tight end records, he wants to surpass the two most prolific tight ends in program history.
"It's pretty crazy," Coyle said. "I'm still striving to get to the top of the list though. I'm very pleased with myself that I'm even up there with those guys, but I want to be the best."
Coyle, a junior, has already tied Heap, currently with the Arizona Cardinals, for fifth all-time on ASU's list for receptions by a tight end in a season with 48. He needs nine more to break Miller's record of 56 set in 2004. With two guaranteed games left and a possible bowl game, the record is well within reach.
"I heard about it at the beginning of the year, I knew how many he had," Coyle said. "I wasn't sure if I was going to be able to get that far, but now that it's close to the end of the year and I'm right there, I'm just striving to catch everything that comes my way."
It will be a little tougher for Coyle to break Heap's record for total yards by a tight end in a season -- 832, set in 1999. With a team best 586 receiving yards, Coyle needs 247 more to eclipse Heap. A bowl game might improve his chances of doing so, but even with just 69 more yards Coyle would rank second all-time, ahead of Ken Dyer's 654 in 1967.
That Coyle has registered numbers unlike any tight end in recent history comes as little surprise, given the way coach Todd Graham's offense has historically featured the H-back position. Coyle couldn’t help but be excited when he saw the numbers Charles Clay, now with the Miami Dolphins, put up as an H-back under Graham at Tulsa in 2007 -- 1024 yards on 69 receptions and another 304 on 57 carries.
"I was very impressed," Coyle said. "We definitely watched a lot of film on Tulsa."
Still, Coyle admits he was a little surprised early in the season to be getting five or more catches in games consistently. Coyle had just six catches all last season in an offensive system that had little use for tight ends.
"Even back in high school I was used to getting two or three passes a game, just little short routes," Coyle said. "Now that it's finally happening, it' so crazy to kind of look back at everything I've been through and just realize the patience I had really paid off. I'm just in the perfect situation for myself in this offense."
With his success this year and the experience under his belt, Coyle figures to only get better in his senior season. But as important as his offensive contribution has been, his work ethic and demeanor have impressed even more.
"If you had me give an attitude award for the guy that just brings it every day, on defense it would be (safety) Alden Darby, and on offense it would be Chris Coyle," Graham said. "He's tough, works hard, just maximizes every bit of ability he has. … You want your team filled with Chris Coyles, and you're going to win."
As important as playing in a bowl game is to a program and its momentum, just as important might be the extra practice time that comes with it.
Accordingly, Graham has stressed to his players the value of the extra 15 practices that would come with a bowl invitation.
"You can't put a price on it," Graham said. "That is not an option. We can't afford not to (get bowl eligible)."
At 5-5, ASU needs one win to become bowl eligible and has two chances to do so -- this Saturday against Washington State and against Arizona next week in the Territorial Cup.
"We've lost some close games that we needed to win, but on the same hand we've got a lot to play for," Graham said. "We cannot afford not to have those extra practices for the development of our program. That's paramount to you as a program."