Troy’s tight end group making noise in fall camp

Published 12:51 pm Friday, August 11, 2023

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The tight end is a position group that oftentimes gets overlooked in modern college football but Troy University currently has one of the school’s best collection of tight ends in recent memory.

Troy’s tight end room is currently filled with two veterans, a couple of transfers and a few young faces, as well.

“I like the direction of the guys in that room and I think we have some high level players there,” Troy Coach Jon Sumrall said of his tight ends.

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Tight ends coach Evan McKissack, a former All-Sun Belt offensive lineman at Troy, is in his second year as the tight ends coach with the Trojans. He’s been thoroughly impressed with his position group during fall camp.

Tight end coach Evan McKissack is in his second year at Troy. (Photo by Joey Meredith)

“These guys come to work every day with a hardhat mentality,” McKissack said. “Not only are they learning something but they’re applying it, that’s the biggest thing. During this phase (of camp) – whether it’s technique or fundamentals – it’s all about applying what you’re learning.

“We have Clayton (Ollendieck), Deyunkrea (Lewis) and Ethan Conner and some young guys that are really stepping up. I think Troy is going to be pleased with this tight end group and they’re also helping younger guys get better, too. This is one of the better fall camps that I’ve ever been a part of just from a communication standpoint. That’s a key thing. You get in the middle of a game you have to be able to make adjustments. The faster you can make those adjustments the more success you have.”

Sumrall shared McKissack’s excitement about the tight ends.

“Clayton Ollendeick is kind of the leader of that group, the old guy that has been around the block and is a steady hand. Deyunkrea Lewis is another returner there with a lot of versatility and the ability to make catches and also block,” Sumrall said. “Ethan Conner is a newcomer that has made some really good contested catches down the field during fall camp”

It takes a lot for a player to get on the field as a tight end at Troy.

“You have to be smart,” McKissack emphasized. “You’re like a quarterback, you have to be able to block, you have to be able to catch and you also have to be able to protect. Being smart and cerebral is a big thing and being physical in the run game. We did a great job of that last year but we also have to be able to apply some athleticism, not just to blocking but being able to catch a route that looks like a block, too.”

Ollendieck, a senior, was rated as one of the best blocking tight ends in the Sun Belt Conference last season.

“Clayton Ollendieck has had a heck of a fall camp,” McKissack said. “The game is slowing down for him. He understands safety rotations and looks (from the defense) and things like that. I think he will have a lot of success and not always have to use his muscle.

“He’s a strong kid, the guy comes in at 5:30 in the morning and is stretching and is up here at 8:00 at night doing more stretching and working out. He cares about his craft and I can’t wait to see him receive the fruits of his labor.”

Ollendieck said that he takes pride in his blocking ability but is looking to add more to his game.

“That’s my forte,” Ollendieck said of blocking. “I’ve tried to get my elusiveness up this offseason and implement that in the pass game a little bit more but I definitely take great pride in blocking.”

Ollendieck wants to be more involved in the passing game this season but his goals are all based around getting another championship ring.

“It’s all about the team,” he said. “I would love to get a conference championship again and see what bowl game we can get into. We just have to take it one game at a time, that’s the goal.”

Lewis, a Montgomery native, is in his fourth year as a Trojan. After catching 11 passes for 141 yard and three scores in 2021, Lewis was limited to nine games in 2022 after battling through some injuries.

“It was emotional at first, just trying to get back into the flow of things,” Lewis said of returning from injuries. “It’s coming along well, though. Fall camp has been going great. As a tight end group, we’ve been doing a good job and just coming out and being our best everyday and pursuing our best.”

Ethan Conner, a transfer from East Mississippi Community College, may be one of the more intriguing newcomers in the group. Conner, at 6-foot-4-inches and 230 pounds, played quarterback in high school and transitioned to receiver at EMCC before moving over to tight end since arriving in Troy.

Junior college transfer Ethan Conner catches a pass during fall camp. (Photo by Joey Meredith)

“With the coach I have here, Coach McKissack, he’s really been molding me and developing me as a tight end,” Conner said. “It hasn’t been too much of a switch for me, it’s more about learning about blocking inside. I’m learning how to fit up bigger guys. I’m used to blocking little cornerbacks, so learning to fit up bigger guys and use the right technique has been my focus.”

At nearly every practice Conner can be seen making highlight reel catches and Conner says that he takes pride on winning jump balls over linebackers and defensive backs.

“I always tell myself that if I’m in the situation (of a jump ball) then the ball is mine no matter what,” he emphasized. “I just want to help the tight end room grow as much as I can and help out the team wherever I can, however I can.”

McKissack is excited to see what Conner does this season.

“If the ball is in the air he comes down with it,” McKissack said of Conner. “I like where he’s at. He’s really even keel. If he has a bad play then he moves on to the next one. That’s what I like most about him. We know he’s going to make plays when his name is called.”

Some young players are also getting some attention at tight end.

“(Freshman) Jackson Worley shows the physicality you want from a young guy and I think he’s way ahead of things in terms of the physical curve,” Sumrall said. “(UAB transfer) Brody Dalton has done a nice job of getting back (from injury). He’s been a little limited but is doing a good job.

“Colton Walls has rolled through (tight end) some, he’s a longsnapper by trade but is a kid that can kind of do a little bit of everything. Another guy in the room that has sort of been an unsung guy is (freshman) Tyce Khatri from Prattville. He’s sort of in the Zacc Weldon mold of years past here. He’s not really a true tight end, maybe a little bit more of a fullback style, and he’s been really good in camp.”

Olleindeck has also been impressed with the new faces in the tight end group.

“Me and (Lewis) are the returners but all the new faces have been awesome,” he said. “We have a couple of true freshman for the first time since I’ve been here and they’ve been great listeners and awesome to play with. Ethan and Brody have been awesome, too. I think they’ll both have a big impact on the field this year.”