How Aaron Hackett bided his time to become Syracuse’s top tight end

first_imgBlock first, catch second. That’s what tight ends need to do to earn playing time under head coach Dino Babers. If a tight end is one-dimensional, it’ll be hard for them to ever see the field in Syracuse’s offensive system. But if they can block, run routes and catch, then they’ll have opportunities.For two years, Aaron Hackett blocked. In 2017, during his freshman year, he played in nine games, usually as an extra blocker, without recording a stat. Last year was a step up. He played in all 13 games and caught four total passes, including a touchdown against Pittsburgh. For the second-straight year, he honed his blocking skills, spending most of his time on the field on special teams and in goal line formations.Now a junior, Hackett has evolved into one of quarterback Tommy DeVito’s top options in the passing game, which finally broke out Saturday against Western Michigan. Expected to be the starting tight end this summer, Hackett polished his route running skills. He’s caught at least one pass in each of Syracuse’s (2-2, 0-1 Atlantic Coast) games, including a career-best six-catch, two-touchdown performance against the Broncos.Ravian Pierce, Syracuse’s starting tight end the past two years, graduated in the spring while Gabe Horan, who caught a touchdown as a true freshman last season, was medically disqualified earlier this year. That’s left the Orange to rely heavily on Hackett as both a blocker in the run game and a receiver this season.“There’s a lot on (Hackett’s) shoulders,” Babers said before the start of the season. “So we expect a lot out of him and he’s gonna have to hold that group together.”AdvertisementThis is placeholder textThat group includes fullback and tight end Chris Elmore and true freshman Luke Benson, who Elmore and Hackett have had to transition faster than usual thanks to SU’s now-thin tight end corp. The size of the group also meant more practice reps for Hackett, who played more snaps than expected during training camp.Eva Suppa | Digital Design EditorHe’s made up for now-graduated tight end Pierce’s lost production and then some, with already 10 catches through four games. That’s just six fewer than Pierce had all season. And Hackett is already two-thirds of the way to Pierce’s touchdown total (3) from last year.“It felt good to finally get my first touchdown in the dome,” Hackett said after having two touchdowns against Western Michigan. “That was awesome. They really gave movement up front, losing me in the play-action.”DeVito simply lobbed the second score up to Hackett, who ran underneath it and nearly got the ball swatted away. Hackett clutched the ball in his left hand, showing it to the referee as he tumbled to the ground. He credits some of his playmaking ability to his background in basketball, much like his favorite tight end growing up, Tony Gonzalez.Currently, his favorite NFL tight end is Chicago Bears’ Trey Burton, who grew up in the same town as Hackett did. Despite their seven-year age difference, Hackett was always around Burton when they were younger, and was once even the water boy for one of Burton’s basketball teams. He still stays in touch with Burton’s brother Clay, a former tight end at the University of Florida, and even worked out with Clay this past summer.“I try to kind of fit to that script of (Trey Burton) where he’s not just a receiver,” Hackett said. “He’s a receiver, he’s a full back, in-line blocker, a jack of all trades. That’s who I want to try to model myself after.”Aside from working out with Clay and gaining nine pounds of muscle, Hackett also worked on getting in-and-out of breaks quicker this summer. He learned in Tampa with a trainer named Route God, whom Hackett found on Twitter and direct messaged. Hackett, along with Florida State tight end Tre’ McKitty, worked out together under the tutelage of Route God, who’s trained NFL players like Deebo Samuel in the past.Along with his offseason training, one factor that led to Hackett’s production in 2019 is his relationship with DeVito — the two began starting roles at SU at the same time. Following their second touchdown connection against Western Michigan, the two embraced, knocking their helmets together and low-fiving. DeVito jogged to the sidelines. Hackett jogged back to the middle of the field, assuming his position in the extra-point unit. Tight ends have to block, after all. Comments Published on September 22, 2019 at 11:05 pm Contact Eric: [email protected] | @esblack34 Facebook Twitter Google+last_img