Sophomore tight end Travis Vokolek made a major impact.
“He made more plays than maybe anyone on our offense all spring,” offensive coordinator John McNulty told BTN during the Scarlet-White Game broadcast on April 14.
The sophomore tight end was arguably the second star of the Scarlet Knights’ spring behind freshman quarterback Artur Sitkowski. With senior tight end Jerome Washington – Rutgers’ leading receiver a year ago – sitting out after offseason shoulder surgery, Vokolek was able to pick up the bulk of reps Washington’s absence made available for 15 spring practices.
Vokolek’s workload should continue to be substantial once Washington returns as well. Early indications suggest McNulty’s scheme will heavily feature the tight end.
“He really respects the tight end position,” Vokolek told NJ Advance Media. “I think the position is on the rise.
“It’s awesome. [Former offensive coordinator Jerry] Kill’s offense last year, I thought that was the perfect fit. And then McNulty got here, and it’s the same fit. We’re a huge target for the quarterbacks. I love it like that, and I want to keep it like that.”
Tight ends coach Vince Okruch calls Vokolek a “rep guy,” meaning the more work he gets, the better. Okruch lamented earlier this spring Vokolek didn’t get more work last fall as a true freshman. The Missouri native appeared in seven games with two starts, catching one pass. Vokolek made up for lost time, though, with Washington out this spring.
“I definitely made huge improvement. My confidence went up. I know I have to work on my blocking a lot more and my route running needs to improve, but I feel like I took another step this spring,” he said. “Jerome is a great player. Playing behind him last year, I learned a lot. I saw the opportunity to go out there and get a bunch of reps. I think that was huge for me.”
Vokolek was a defensive back and receiver at Kickapoo High, and was only 6-foot heading into his junior year before he hit a growth spurt. Vokolek, who now stands at 6-foot-5 and 240 pounds, said he quickly realized he wouldn’t be fast enough to play wideout. He arrived at Rutgers as a three-star recruit, but was very raw for the tight end position, particularly as a blocker.
Vokolek was limited in his blocking work toward the end of the spring after tweaking his knee, but Okruch said he was pleased with his progress earlier in the spring. Okruch added he believes Vokolek can play in the Big Ten at his current weight, as it allows him to hold serve in the run game and maintain his agility as a receiver, the aspect of his game that makes his breakout potential pop.
“I’m getting more comfortable with my hand on the ground,” Vokolek said. “When I first got here, all I wanted to do was be out in the slot. I’ve gained some weight, I’ve gotten stronger. I definitely feel like I’m getting there.”