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2020 Northwestern football position previews: Tight Ends

We were told superbacks are gone.

Iowa v Northwestern Photo by Justin Casterline/Getty Images

It’s officially Northwestern’s summer. Spring Quarter ended last week, and it’s time to look ahead to the fall, when, despite many uncertainties and potential alterations, the college football powers that be are planning for the 2020 season. We start our summer coverage by previewing every position group on the team. We move on to the superbacks/tight ends, since we don’t really know what to call them. Mike Bajakian has called them tight ends, but the roster still lists superbacks.


Returning Starters: Charlie Mangieri (Jr.), Trey Pugh (R-Jr.)

Key Losses: Trent Goens

Returners: Alex Oelsner (Jr.), Thomas Gordon (R-Fy.)

Newcomers: Hunter Welcing (Fy.), John Raine (Grad Transfer)

Amidst the offensive disaster of 2019 was the storyline that NU got next to no production from its superbacks. After Cameron Green’s offseason retirement, the Wildcats lost their third-leading receiver from 2018 and the position’s impact became virtually nonexistent. Charlie Mangieri, the primary option, lead the group with a meager five receptions for 21 yards. Meanwhile, Trey Pugh saw the field in just four games, where he caught two balls for nine yards.

With such a small body of work from both Mangieri and Pugh, it’s quite difficult to tell which one of them may start in 2020, or if someone like Florida Atlantic graduate transfer John Raine is primed to come in and play with the ones.

Seeing as Goens, the attempted converted defensive lineman, saw the field in just one game last year and recorded no stats, it’s safe to say the superback group is returning everything. With the addition of Raine, we should see some added firepower.

Former offensive coordinator Mick McCall strayed away from the superback position last season in a departure from years past when Danny Vitale, Garrett Dickerson and Green were all important facets of the scoring unit. However, with new OC Mike Bajakian now running the show, change is coming. For starters, we’re calling them tight ends now, apparently.

In addition to the potential name change, a more run-heavy scheme from Bajakian means we may not see a huge impact from the likes of Mangieri, Pugh and Raine in the passing game. But as of now, we can only speculate.

Key Player

John Raine

Raine is the only true player we can get a read on in this core group. In his senior season at FAU, Raine recorded 38 receptions for 343 yards and six touchdowns. Those stats would match all of NU’s receiving TDs from last year and rank second in receiving yards behind Riley Lees.

The numbers aren’t eye popping, but Raine was a red zone threat for the Owls last season. Additionally, one of his top games of the year came against Ohio State, where he notched six catches for 29 yards and a score.

Listed at 6-foot-2 and 235 pounds, the Miami native is slightly smaller than both Mangieri and Pugh, who are listed at a nearly identical 6-foot-4 and 252 pounds and 6-foot-4 and 250 pounds, respectively.

Considering the overarching ineffectiveness of Mangieri and Pugh last season, it seems Raine has the greatest chance to make an immediate impact.

Big Questions

What impact will this group have on the new offense?

The superback position summarized NU’s offense in a nutshell last season: ineffective. As previously mentioned, Wildcat superbacks were hardly present on the field last year, but that could be due to the fact that the offense wasn’t either.

Now, a different offensive scheme is in place. Coach Jake’s potential run-heavy scheme will be centered around Isaiah Bowser and co., so the passing game is somewhat of a question mark. Under Bajakian, tight end Hunter Long led the way with 509 receiving yards for Boston College in 2019. Fellow tight end Jake Burt recorded an additional 212 receiving yards. These numbers could potentially indicate we’ll be seeing more from the Northwestern tight ends in 2020, and their impact would be very welcome.

Depth Chart

Northwestern’s 2020 Tight Ends

John Raine Trey Pugh Charlie Mangieri
Alex Oelsner Thomas Gordon