ANN ARBOR, Mich. – With the moving of junior Devin Funchess to the wide receiver position, Michigan was expected to be a bit light at tight end in 2014. The initial plan was of course for emerging sophomore Jake Butt to step up into a larger role in the offense this year.
But after Butt tore his ACL in mid-February, Michigan would stand even thinner at the tight end position. And so, a change had to be made.
“One of the assistant guys was like ‘coach Hoke needs to see you in his office,’” said junior Keith Heitzman. “So I’m like, ‘Damn, this isn’t going to be good’ [smiling]. I go up and he’s like, ‘We are making a position change’.”
As a defensive end that accumulated eight tackles last year, Heitzman’s first thought was that he would be asked to shift to the defensive tackle position for 2014, and he wasn’t thrilled about that.
“I was bummed out,” Heitzman said, “because I thought he was going to move me inside, and that’s another 30 pounds that I’d have to gain.”
But the Michigan coaching staff had another move in mind for the 6-foot-4, 258-pound athlete.
“He said I’m moving you to tight end,” said Heitzman. “I didn’t say anything because I thought he was messing with me. That’s coach Hoke. Then he continued talking, and I realized he was serious.”
“Being a defensive guy, I couldn’t act too excited or anything, but secretly I was pretty excited. I get to lose all that weight and be able to run, which is nice. Basically I just said I will do whatever is best for the team.”
This will not be Heitzman’s first time playing tight end. In high school, Heitzman was the second leading receiver for his Hilliard (Ohio) Davidson team during his season, albeit with just two completions to his name. So this move to tight end will be a new, yet at times familiar challenge for Heitzman. In an effort to adjust to the new responsibilities that he will possess, he has been busy working over the offseason to make his position change as smooth as possible.
“Mostly this offseason for me has been running, route running and getting in the right position to tight end,” said Heitzman. “I have adjusted pretty well. It’s a lot different with the amount of running, longer distance running. With D-end, you’re running like a five-yard sprint. It was a challenge to me at first.”
It was a challenge that also included a quick lesson in patience as Heitzman suffered a minor setback along the way.
“I actually had an injury with the first route I ran back in spring,” said Heitzman. “I had a little quad pull or something like that. But it’s coming along pretty nice.”
Since that time, Heitzman has stayed focused on filling the role that coach Hoke has deemed necessary for him this year. He does have a few goals that he would like to achieve if opportunity allows, however.
“More than one touchdown this year would be nice [laughs],” said Heitzman. “The goal for me is just to really establish the run game. I feel like it’s been a little shaky over the years. It would be real nice to contribute to the run game.”
It appears that Heitzman will have his opportunity to impact Team 135 in a few different areas. Based on what new offensive coordinator has shown in practice thus far, the tight end position should be of high importance this season.
“[People should expect] a lot more involvement with the tight ends,” said Heitzman “It seems like Nussmeier really favors the tight ends a lot in the run game and even in the pass game.”
With Butt out for at least part of the season, the tight end position will be involved more only if Heitzman is able to step up and assist A.J. Williams quickly. As a team guy, Heitzman will do all he can to make that happen.
Heitzman Hopes to Help Solidify U-M Run Game
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