Utah State football: D.J. Tialavea's dedication paying off
Logan • The question never has been where D.J. Tialavea could play.
Where couldn't the guy play?
His bulk and speed made him a great defender in high school. He showed his smarts and power as a block-first tight end during his college career.
Tialavea, who has 13 career receptions, is looking more and more like a pass-catching threat this fall. His feet know where to take him, and his hands can bring in the ball softly. And once he tucks it away, he's going to be awfully hard to bring down.
"I think it's just making most out of opportunities I'm given," he said. "For those limited reps I get, I try to make the most of it. I want to show the coaches they can count on me. If it's just one time a game, I'm gonna make that catch."
The way Tialavea's looked in camp, Chuckie Keeton may target him more often than that.
The 22-year-old senior comes down with some of the team's more spectacular grabs. He laid out in the end zone for one Monday. He caught Keeton's threaded shot while defenders were draped over him Tuesday.
"More than anything, I think D.J.'s taking advantage of his opportunity," Aggies coach Matt Wells said. "I've always thought he could catch the ball. We've all thought he could."
The West Jordan native was recruited as a pass-rushing defensive lineman. As a sophomore, his coaches thought his athleticism would be better as a tight end, where he could dominate edge pass rushers and be an extra lineman in the run game.
At 6-foot-4 and 260 pounds, he's a box of doughnuts away from being an offensive tackle he's actually played there as well for Utah State.
But replacing Kellen Bartlett, who caught 38 passes and moved the chains for the Aggies last season, was a higher calling. Tialavea took it seriously, dedicating at least half an hour every day to pass-catching drills with his friends Alex Wheat and Joey DeMartino.
He also paid attention to his footwork, running routes over and over until they were telling him when he should move.
"He's a football junkie," Wells said. "He cares a lot about the sport. He's invested a lot of time in the last three months up in the building. It's neat to see some of that paying off for him."
Tialavea still is valuable as a blocker, so it's not yet known if he'll be as influential as Bartlett in the passing game. But if he does add receiving to his skill set, the NFL might take a few extra looks at him, though he said his mind is far from his pro dreams right now.
Tialavea said he's dedicating each day during camp to one detail. He said Tuesday that he was working on shooting his hands into defenders' pads to better block them. He was focused on perfecting that small aspect of his game.
That studious approach already has taken him this far.
DJ Tialavea through the years
Tight end • 13 receptions, two touchdowns in last two seasons; valuable asset as a blocker
Defensive lineman • Played in nine games as a freshman; made a tackle
Offensive tackle • Played 10 snaps against New Mexico State with 100 percent assignment grade