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December 1, 2011

SDSU's big tight end finding huge success

San Diego State tight end Gavin Escobar has an unusual highlight tape on YouTube.

It starts off inconspicuously, with Escobar - then a freshman - looking uncomfortably into the camera and saying, "I really wasn't sure what to expect, being my freshman year, but I'm happy with the success I guess so far."

It then goes on to show about a minute of Escobar making one-handed catches and long touchdown receptions, which Aztec fans have come to expect regularly from the second-year tight end.

There's only one odd quirk: The clips are set to "Party in the U.S.A." by Miley Cyrus - not the song choice you'd expect while watching highlights of a 6-foot-6, 245-pound Division I football player.

"My sister made it for me," Escobar said, sheepishly.

On the field for SDSU this season, the sophomore from Rancho Santa Margarita has been more wolf than sheep; more Metallica than Miley Cyrus. Despite breaking his hand against Air Force halfway through the season, Escobar is tied for third among tight ends nationally in touchdowns (7), and ranks fifth in receiving yards (585). He has been the most reliable playmaker on an inconsistent SDSU passing offense, and one of the toughest matchups in the Mountain West.

"I think he is one of the best tight ends in the nation right now as a sophomore," linebacker Miles Burris said. "He's got talent oozing out of every pore. He's a quiet kid, doesn't talk much, he just goes out there and puts his work in every day … He just makes plays and now we're not even surprised by it anymore because it's just what he does every day."

"That's a great compliment," the soft-spoken Escobar said. "I appreciate that, but I just go out and play and do what I can."

All the sophomore has done is utilize his gargantuan frame, soft hands and deceptive speed to put together maybe the best two-year span of any tight end in school history.

The 6-foot-6 20-year-old has been a monster in the red zone this year for SDSU, but he didn't always have his size to rely on. Escobar, who played on the same basketball team as 2011 NBA draft pick Klay Thompson at Santa Margarita Catholic High School, hit his growth spurt just a few years ago.

"I was probably 5-11 coming into high school," Escobar said. "Then by my junior year I grew to 6-5, 6-6."

In fact, he spent the majority of his prep career as a wide receiver and was converted to tight end when he got to San Diego State. And that's when the quiet Escobar really started to make noise.

It all began last year, when starting tight end Alston Umuolo was hobbled by a hip injury at the beginning of the season and was shut down after only two games. Escobar earned the starting spot in his first year on Montezuma Mesa and played like a seasoned veteran, garnering second-team freshman All-American honors. A year later, he has continued to impress, and has even drawn comparisons to two superstar tight ends who are tearing up the NFL.

"If you look at what he has in his physical tools, he's that guy that teams are looking for," quarterback Ryan Lindley said. "You look at the Patriots, they've got (Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez) that are long and are scoring a ton of touchdown for them, and Gavin is that guy."

What makes Escobar so good?

"He is 6-6, close to 250 pounds with really good hands and he tracks the ball really well, so he is a matchup problem," SDSU head coach Rocky Long said. "If you put a linebacker on him, he can usually beat him with his speed and quickness. If you put a (defensive back) on him, he can shield him from the ball even if the DB has got him covered. He has some huge physical advantages and then being able to track the ball and having good hands really makes a difference too."

Long also said that Escobar has become a much better blocker this year, and told reporters during a MW coaches' teleconference that he thought "with two more years, he can be as good as any tight end in the country."

As long as the superstar sophomore with the Miley Cyrus highlight tape can continue to shine, the Aztecs will keep making him a focal point in the passing game.

"He's the go-to guy," Lindley said. "He makes plays for us and we look to give him the ball when we can."


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