Charles Hoke was an outstanding wide receiver at Briarwood Christian in Birmingham. It was Alabama's belief that the 6-7, 230-pounder could eventually get up to tight end size. And there wasn't any hurry.
Fortunately, Hoke moved the size project ahead of schedule. It's a good thing, because injuries have taken their toll in the Crimson Tide tight end corps.
Between the time Hoke finished his senior football season, he began getting bigger. He got a little bigger during Briarwood's basketball season, then really got on the weights after that. The result is that he reported to Alabama this summer at 260 and has been able to keep his weight at about 255 during fall camp.
Two men who had expected to rank high on the depth chart at tight end will be on the sidelines for at least the first few games. Sophomore Trent Davidson had summer surgery to repair a stress fracture in his foot and is not expected back to action before the South Carolina game, the third game of the season on September 17, at the earliest. Senior Greg McLain separated his shoulder in Alabama's Saturday scrimmage and is expected to be out some four weeks.
"It's unfortunate, but it's an opportunity for me and Travis to get some playing time," Hoke said.
Dave Ungerer, who coaches Alabama's tight ends, said, "I told him and Travis when they came in that they had to get ready to play, that we didn't have the luxury of redshirting them."
Ungerer said, "I think Charles is six months to a year ahead of schedule. It's a tribute to him and what he did after his basketball season. Now he's having to learn to carry weight he's never had before. He's not as fluid as he was with 25 or 30 pounds he didn't have before.
"He's still getting a feel for it. He's a better blocker than I thought he'd be, but he's still got a long way to go."
Ungerer said that Hoke would probably be third on the depth chart behind Walker and McCall. "But," the coach said, "Charles has got to play."
Like Walker, Hoke was a wide receiver in high school. "My strong point is catching the ball," he said. Hoke had a breakout season as a junior in 2003 when he caught 57 passes for 945 yards and nine touchdowns. His production fell a bit as a senior as his team had a new quarterback, but he still had 40 catches for 450 yards.
Hoke, who is the nephew of former Alabama wide receiver Dexter Wood, also caught the attention of recruiters with his academic work, a 4.4 grade point average and 31 ACT score.
Hoke said, "We have three guys with no college game experience at tight end, so we're learning under fire. I'm working hard because I know I've got a lot to improve on. I'm adjusting to all the blocking combinations, which is a big change from what I did as a wide receiver in high school."
He added, "I think we'll be ready."
Hoke said, "When I signed I knew there wasn't a whole lot of depth. Then we lost a couple of guys and the rest of us have to go faster to get ready. There are no options. It's time for me to meet the challenge head on."