Football: Catching up with the tight end trio

Nov. 9, 2011, 1:40 a.m.
Football: Catching up with the tight end trio
Redshirt sophomore Levine Toilolo (11, above) returned this year after sitting out the majority of last season due to injury. He has four touchdowns and 216 receiving yards so far this season. (SIMON WARBY/The Stanford Daily)

The tight end trio comprised of redshirt senior Coby Fleener and redshirt sophomores Levine Toilolo and Zach Ertz has played a large role in the football team’s offensive success. The Stanford Daily sat down with the players dubbed “Trees Company” to discuss all things tight end.

The Stanford Daily (TSD): From your perspective, what has been the biggest difference for you guys this year as a tight end corps?

Coby Fleener (CF): I guess we’ve all gotten the opportunity to help the team, and we’ve taken advantage of that. Whether it’s in the run game as blockers or the pass game as receivers, I think we relish the opportunity to do whatever we can to help us win.

Levine Toilolo (LT): I think the biggest thing is focusing on preparation. As a unit and as a team, we take pride in taking everything this season one step at a time. Making sure we are focusing on the details and keying in on the little things. Having the group of tight ends that we have, we are able to push each other to get better.

Zach Ertz (ZE): Personally, I think the key to the success this year is that the coaches are putting us all in situations to be successful. That has definitely played a key role in the success we have had.

TSD: You guys obviously have slightly different skill sets, so what unique qualities do you think you each bring to the table?

CF: When you look at Levine or Zach, they both can stretch the field or block, and so it is really a matchup problem for defenses when you put guys like that out there. Whether it’s Levine going long one play and Zach’s blocking, or vice versa, it makes us very difficult to cover. And when all three of us are out there, it makes it that much more difficult.

LT: For me a big thing has been consistency. Whether that’s blocking or when Andrew comes my way with the ball, I focus on being someone the team can really count on. Just trying to be running the ball my way and getting a key block, or coming down with a key catch.

TSD: What is the best and worst thing about being so tall?

CF: Um, traveling, I guess, is not necessarily ideal. Definitely the small legroom in the car or on a plane isn’t fun. And the best, I don’t know, maybe being able to see over crowds, [laughing] I’m not really sure.

LT: Not really being able to fit in the dorm beds, but I was able to get my own queen-size [bed], so that’s actually pretty nice.

ZE: Best thing is that it’s allowed me to play tight end with Coby and Levine. The worst is how hard it is to find nice clothes that fit me.

TSD: Coby, as the elder spokesman of the bunch, what role have you taken in mentoring these young guns?

CF: [Laughter] Well, I try to pass along anything that I’ve learned, especially that’s going to help them and ultimately help the team. So if that’s a tidbit of knowledge about how to do a certain play or a certain technique, I’ll pass that along. And before I go I want to make sure I let them know all the things that have helped me in my career so they can use them.

TSD: All three of you guys could have found opportunities to play basketball at the next level; what made you pick football?

Football: Catching up with the tight end trio
Redshirt senior Coby Fleener has been Andrew Luck's main target in the end zone this season, recording eight touchdowns in nine games. (NICK SALAZAR/The Stanford Daily)

LT: Football is just something that I loved growing up. A lot of my family played football, and that’s what pulled me away from playing basketball. We love playing basketball, but the biggest thing for me was being with my family.

CF: I didn’t play basketball well enough apparently. Ultimately I think it comes down to a numbers game. There are a lot more scholarships available for football than there are for basketball, and while the athleticism was there, my skills weren’t quite up to par in basketball as they were in football.

And Stanford University sells itself, really. The combination of academics and athletics is second to none. At the time I was being recruited, there was no coach really in place, but based on Stanford’s academic record and them playing in an awesome conference, I knew I wanted to come here regardless.

ZE: Going into my sophomore year of high school I kind of wanted to focus on the two sports and just let it see where it might take me. Then after my junior year I started getting recruited and realized that my future was in football, and I was thrilled. Stanford was one the first schools to look at me and I loved the coaching staff then and I decided to just focus on football and play at Stanford.

TSD: What are the challenges to playing in an offense that uses three tight ends and rotates you around so often?

LT: Honestly I don’t know if I’d call it a challenge. I think it’s just something that makes us better as a unit. It’s difficult to make sure you know the different roles, but it’s really more fun than challenging.

ZE: I don’t think there really are too many challenges because we all play so much and are on the field so often at the same time that it works out well. Also, with the three of us rotating, we are always fresh and ready to play at a very high level.

TSD: Stanford football as a brand has grown a lot in recent years. Are you guys getting some more looks or street cred on campus?

CF: [laughter] Not really, simple routine that doesn’t take me out too many times. Go between points A, B and maybe C, don’t see too many people. But it’s funny when other guys on the team with long hair get asked if they are Coby.

Miles Bennett-Smith is Chief Operating Officer at The Daily. An avid sports fan from Penryn, Calif., Miles graduated in 2013 with a Bachelor's degree in American Studies. He has previously served as the Editor in Chief and President at The Daily. He has also worked as a reporter for The Sacramento Bee. Email him at [email protected]

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