Louisville senior tight end Cole Hikutini is ready for a sensational senior season; could be one of the top targets for U of L offense

University of Louisville senior tight end Cole Hikutini is expecting a big senior season for the Cardinals. He had 19 catches for 348 yards last season in a year when he was hampered by injuries. Hikutini is now on the John Mackey Awards Watch List.

University of Louisville quarterback Lamar Jackson smiles when you ask him a question about senior tight end Cole Hikutini, while Louisville head coach Bobby Petrino hasn't gotten through a media session since last season when he didn't talk about Hikutini.

"He's a big guy and a major weapon," Jackson said.

Added Petrino: "He's just such a great weapon. He runs really good routes, has tremendous hands and can make plays down the field. He's a guy that really knows how to control his body and make plays on balls in the air."

If you couldn't guess, Hikutini is expected to be a top weapon for the Cardinals' offense.

The 6-foot-5, 245-pound Hikutini had 19  catches for 348 yards and three touchdowns last season - his first year at U of L - despite some early-season injury problems. He heads into his senior season on the John Mackey Awards Watch List, which is the honor given to the nations top tight end at the end of the season.

"I don't want to miss any practice and I don't want to miss any games," Hikutini said. "And that's the first thing for me, take care of my body. That's my biggest goal and then just knowing the plays and playing full speed all the time.

"I try not to think statistically. I just want to win. I guess personally my goal would be to win the Mackey, that's every tight ends goal. But the bigger picture is more important to me. I want the team to win a national championship."

Hikutini, who originally signed with Sacramento State, played one season at City College of San Francisco and was headed to Purdue. But Louisville jumped into his recruitment late and landed him without a visit to campus.

It didn't look like the right move early last season for Hikutini.

"It was tough early," he said. "I definitely was flustered. I found myself kind of second-guessing myself and not playing as fast as I wanted to. Toward the end of the season, I got the hang of things, the speed of the game, got the playbook down.

"It was a lot of fun to get adjusted."

The early struggles had to deal with injuries also for Hikutini, who was injured in the spring and then also suffered an injury in the opener last season against Auburn. He ended up playing in 11 games but 14 of his 19 catches came in the final five games.

"I was comfortable late in the season and went out full speed," he said. "I just played full speed and didn't have to worry about it. I just went out there and did my thing and that made it easy for me."

Hikutini made huge strides in the spring, according to the U of L coaches, and had four catches for 75 yards and a pair of touchdowns in the spring game. He was one of the leaders during the summer workouts.

Petrino said at the ACC Kickoff last month that Hikutini was "a very big part of our offense."

"I think Cole is a real special receiving tight end with his ability to run and run routes full-speed," Petrino said. "And that’s the thing about him, when he runs his routes, he runs full-speed, cuts full-speed. He doesn’t have to change to get out of breaks."

Hikutini said he's ready for a bang-up senior season.

"I'm playing with a whole lot more confidence," he said. "I'm just ready to play football."

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