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Michigan State 2020 Positional Breakdown: Tight Ends

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: DEC 27 Pinstripe Bowl - Michigan State v Wake Forest Photo by Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

As we continue to look through the Michigan State Spartans’ football roster by positional group, today’s focus is on the tight ends.

The tight end personnel makes up one of the more intriguing groups on the roster with both a lot of question marks and a lot of potential. The Spartans lost Matt Seybert — who led the group in 2019 with 26 catches for 284 yards and three touchdowns — to graduation. There are still good options at the position on the roster, which we’ll get to shortly, but MSU needs a player to step up and fill in that production.

Additionally, head coach Mel Tucker added highly successful longtime wide receivers coach Ted Gilmore to the staff to coach tight ends. Gilmore hasn’t coached tight ends since 1999 at Kansas, but has a proven track record and brings plenty of excitement to the coaching staff.

One other note: Tucker and his staff have seemed to jettison the fullback position, as last year fullbacks, Reid Burton and Max Rosenthal, are currently listed on the roster as tight ends.

Here are the names to know:

Trenton Gillison, redshirt sophomore

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: SEP 28 Indiana at Michigan State Photo by Adam Ruff/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Gillison is the presumed starter with Matt Dotson’s status in question due to an Achilles injury (we’ll get to that below). Gillison was used sparingly throughout the 2019 season with 12 catches for 147 yards (12.3 yards per catch) and zero touchdowns, but had a breakout game in the 2019 Pinstripe Bowl victory over Wake Forest, with four receptions for 88 yards (including a 64-yarder). In total, he appeared in 12 games and played 319 snaps as a redshirt freshman. The staff hopes Gillison will build off of that strong Pinstripe Bowl performance and take over the role as the No. 1 tight end.

Gillison was a four-star recruit coming out Pickerington Central in Ohio in 2018, and rated as the No. 12 tight end prospect in the entire class, per the 247Sports Composite rankings. In fact, he was Michigan State’s second-highest rated recruit in the class of 2018, behind only cornerback Kalon Gervin. Gillison has patiently waited for his opportunity, and he should be given that chance in 2020. Gillison provides a big target for whoever takes over the quarterback position at 6-foot-4 and about 250 pounds. While that size works to advantage in red zone, jump ball or short-yardage situations, he’s also shown the ability to run after the catch:

Matt Dotson, senior

Northwestern v Michigan State Photo by Duane Burleson/Getty Images

Dotson, a 6-foot-5-inch, 252-pound athlete, enters his senior year with plenty of question marks regarding his health. He suffered a brutal torn Achilles injury last November against Illinois. There have not been many updates on Dotson’s status heading into the 2020 season, but it’s more than likely the case that he will miss at least the first couple of games (assuming the college football season begins on time). Dotson is easily the most experienced tight end on the roster with 32 receptions for 329 yards with two touchdowns in 31 career games. Prior to his injury, Dotson played in 308 snaps, with a career-high 16 catches for 151 yards and a score in 2019.

If he is actually healthy to start the season, he would likely be the top tight end option, or would at least provide heavy competition for Gillison in that regard. Dotson and Gillison would be the obvious choices in two-tight-end-sets as well. Similarly to Gillison, Dotson was a highly-touted four-star recruit. He was ranked as the No. 8 tight end prospect in the 2017 class, with offers from Ohio State, Michigan, Auburn, Florida, Oregon and many other prestigious programs. If he is able to get onto the field this season, he should make a significant impact.

Adam Berghorst, sophomore

Berghorst was a three-star prospect coming out Zeeland East High School in 2019, and was originally recruited as a defensive end. That is the spot Berghorst started his college career at, but was moved over to offense as a tight end midway through last season. For whatever reason, the coaching staff decided to burn his redshirt last year, and he played in five games total (including just one snap against Illinois) to earn his first letter. Berghorst saw 46 offensive snaps in 2019, including a season-high 28 snaps in the Pinstripe Bowl. He did not record any official statistics.

Berghorst is a bit of a wild card at the tight end position, as he hasn’t played there for a very long time. Spartans fans don’t know what exactly to expect from Berghorst, but we do know he’s athletic and multi-talented, as he also competes on the Michigan State baseball team as a pitcher. His 6-foot-7, 250-pound frame provides ideal size and length. If Dotson is unable to go early in the season, Berghorst could be thrust into the lineup as the second tight end option.

Parks Gissinger, redshirt sophomore

Similarly to Berghorst, Gissinger was also recruited by MSU as a three-star defensive end (he did play tight end in high school as well, however), but later made the transition to tight end in the college ranks. Also similar to Berghorst, he has a chance to compete for playing time right away as the No. 2 tight end behind Gillison (if Dotson remains sidelined). The Los Angeles native redshirted as a true freshman in 2018, and then saw action in four games in 2019, primarily on special teams. He played 11 snaps in the Pinstripe Bowl and recorded his first career reception in the game, which went for five yards. Interestingly, he also served as the team’s backup long snapper, according to his official bio. Gissinger was also an Academic All-Big Ten selection in 2019. He will have an opportunity to earn a role in 2020.

Max Rosenthal, redshirt junior

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: NOV 16 Michigan State at Michigan Photo by Steven King/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

It will be interesting to see the exact role Rosenthal (and Burton) plays this season. While the fullback position now seems to be obsolete under the new coaching regime, I wouldn’t be totally shocked if it were some sort of H-back/hybrid role where we could still see a traditional fullback in goal line sets and other short-yardage situations, and see him play tight end in other formations, but I am merely speculating. He did play some tight end snaps in high school. Rosenthal joined Michigan State as a preferred walk-on in 2017 out of New Trier Township High School in Winnetka, Illinois. He chose to walk-on with the Spartans over scholarships offers from schools such as Bowling Green and Air Force. After redshirting as a true freshman, Rosenthal has appeared in 20 games over the past two seasons.

While his primary role has been as a lead blocker, he has scored two career touchdowns — a fumble recovery in the end zone against Maryland in 2018, and one-yard touchdown reception against Michigan in 2019. He was also an Academic All-Big Ten selection in 2019.

Reid Burton, redshirt senior

As mentioned earlier, Reid Burton, son of Michigan State defensive line coach, Ron Burton, also makes the transition from fullback to tight end. After dealing with a meniscus tear and missing his senior year of high school, Burton joined the Spartans as a preferred walk-on in 2016. He redshirted that year, and now entering his senior season, has not seen any game action throughout his college career. He could get his chance for playing time this season, especially with Dotson’s status unclear and if more injuries take a toll on the positional group. Again, I am interested to see what role Burton and Rosenthal play this season and if their versatility will be leveraged by the coaching staff. Burton has garnered Academic All-Big Ten honors three years in a row.

Incoming freshman: Tommy Guajardo, Dearborn High School.

Guajardo, a 6-foot-3, 230-pound tight end, started his high school career as a wide receiver and is regarded for his plus-athleticism. He is ranked as the No. 30 tight end in the class of 2020, and the No. 22 prospect in the state of Michigan, per the 247Sports Composite. Guajardo was actually offered by Tucker and the Colorado staff in June 2019 (although he was already verbally committed to MSU at that time). He had additional offers from Minnesota, West Virginia, Indiana, Iowa State, Kansas State, Pittsburgh, North Carolina State and many others. It would not be surprising to see Guarjardo redshirt as a true freshman, however with the depth at the tight end position as a bit of a question mark, he could impress the coaching staff and find some early playing time.

These are the seven players that currently make up the roster at the tight end position for Michigan State, however more walk-ons may be added this summer. The pressure is on Gillison to step up and lead the group, while Dotson’s availability at some point this season is going to be crucial for the Spartans. One of the other players mentioned above will need to step up while Dotson is sidelined, but which player that will be is going to be an interesting storyline to watch.