"The days of the tight end being a big part of the BYU offense aren't gone," said the 6-foot-6, 245-pound product of Ontario, Calif. "I really think this year will be different than last year."
Mahina, who trimmed down a bit in the offseason (from 257 to 245, roughly) after catching just seven passes for 64 yards last year, is listed as the starting tight end on BYU's depth chart, but he doesn't have much competition at least among the guys vying to line up next to a tackle in a two-point stance.
The only other true tight ends on the roster are junior Bryan Sampson and freshmen Matt Sumsion and Colby Jorgensen, and they have zero college receptions between them. Junior Terenn Houk, who had two catches last year, is called a tight end, but he is more of a hybrid receiver who will line up in the slot when he's on the field.
Actually, BYU is calling several of those types of players tight ends on its roster, including UTEP transfer Jordan Leslie and Stanford transfer Keanu Nelson, but they are really inside receivers, coach Bronco Mendenhall said.
"Really, it is not so much using the tight end [as] it is 'where can our best players be used?' And so we have kind of different versions of tight ends, as you've seen," Mendenhall said. "Devin will be more of a hand-on-the-ground tight end to be used with two backs, and in some one-back settings. But you will also see Jordan Leslie, Keanu Nelson, guys like that, playing an inside receiver spot. They are actually grouped with the tight ends. … The good news is we have two-back sets and one-back sets so I think there will be a role for all of them."
Mahina, who has been slowed by an ankle sprain the first few sessions of camp, disputes the notion that BYU's tight ends didn't do much last year, saying that he and Kaneakua Friel (11 catches, 128 yards, 1 TD) became valuable blockers for quarterback Taysom Hill and running back Jamaal Williams.
"I think if people pay attention to the blocking, they will be pleased," Mahina said. "We had one of the best rushing offenses in the game last year. People forget that there was always a tight end in there blocking. … Still, I think with 25 receptions and a couple touchdowns this coming season, respect will come back to BYU tight ends, in most people's eyes."
Mahina, who served an LDS Church mission to Antananarivo, Madagascar, before enrolling at BYU, said he hopes to be on the field for about 65 percent of the offensive plays this season, "after hearing coach [Robert] Anae say the tight end is the most productive formation in the offense."
Asked about his plan for the tight end position in the second season of his second stint at BYU's offensive coordinator, Anae said, "To keep it healthy, and when it is healthy, use it."
Anae said tight ends were on the field a lot last year, but didn't get open enough.
"Well, the offense works kind of like your elementary school voting booth," Anae said. "People aren't going to vote for you to be romper room leader unless you earn that. It is the same thing in football. If those tight ends weren't getting open, they weren't getting balls. They just weren't earning that. It is the same principle. You earn it, your teammates respect you, and it becomes more productive visibly. We did not have that happen last year. Can I mandate it as a coach? I have been doing this a long time; I have never been able to mandate success. Never."
That said, Anae believes Mahina has the tools to be a go-to tight end in the tradition of Gordon Hudson, Itula Mili, Chad Lewis and others.
"I sure do, absolutely," he said.
BYU's tight ends, 2014
Player Ht/Wt Year
Devin Mahina 6-6/245 Senior
26 catches, 310 yards, 2 TDs
Terenn Houk 6-5/225 Junior
2 catches, 8 yards, 0 TDs
Bryan Sampson 6-4/215 Junior
Appeared in 1 game, no catches
Matt Sumsion 6-8/250 Freshman
Colby Jorgensen 6-7/230 Freshman
Career stats (Sumsion, Jorgensen have no stats)