UB tight end Matt Weiser steps into spotlight

After years of waiting, Weiser moves into a leading role for Buffalo’s passing offense

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It’s not easy waiting for your moment.

For years, senior tight end Matt Weiser waited for just that. He knew he could help the team yet he was stuck in a limited role and unable to show how good he actually was. For three years, Weiser and his fellow tight ends weren’t focal points of the offense and were often delegated to blocking.

As a result, Weiser entered his senior season with just 29 career catches.

But on Saturday against Nevada, in a new offense with plays set for a tight end, Weiser’s wait was finally over. His years of blocking and special teams paid off, as it culminated with a career-high 10 catches for 131 yards – the highest total for a tight end in the program’s Football Bowl Subdivision era.

He also caught the game’s first touchdown, a 41-yard catch-and-run, on a simple stick play, as Weiser called it. Senior quarterback Joe Licata threw it over the middle to a defended Weiser. Despite the defender lurking, Weiser still made the catch and prepared for the hit from the defender.

Only, the defender couldn’t wrap up Weiser’s big body. The tight end simply shook him off and ran for the end zone. And 41 yards later, Weiser celebrated his first touchdown of the season and the Bulls took a 7-0 lead.

Even as he looked back on the play, Weiser almost didn’t want to take credit for it.

“Nevada had other guys to worry about,” Weiser said. “We have so many weapons on the outside like Ron [Willoughby] and Marcus [McGill] that it allowed me to get open, get some space and make some catches.”

Just four games into the season, Weiser has already eclipsed his regular season high in catches with 17 on the year. He has 176 receiving yards – 110 yards away from eclipsing his career high.

Head coach Lance Leipold was impressed with his tight end’s play against the Wolf Pack Saturday and how effective Weiser has been to start the season.

“He played excellent against Nevada,” Leipold said. “We said early in the season that we wanted to use our tight ends more, create more plays and have them in larger roles. We’re going to continue to have sets for them.”

After committing to Buffalo in 2011, Weiser redshirted his freshman season. The next year he found himself lined up more with the kick return and kick coverage teams than next to the offensive tackles.

He didn’t record his first catch for the Bulls until the end of the 2012 season in a 21-7 loss to Bowling Green. It took a full year to record his first touchdown grab as well, a 16-yard pass from Licata against Ohio State in the 2013 opener.

As a junior, Weiser continued to make strides in the right direction as he caught four touchdown passes on 15 total receptions. He also became a better big-play receiver, averaging 19.1 yards per catch that season. But it didn’t matter, as the Bulls finished with a 5-6 record, missed a Bowl birth and endured former head coach Jeff Quinn’s firing halfway through the season.

But Quinn’s exit may have been the best Weiser’s career. Quinn ran a system where the tight end was primarily a blocker.

Leipold and the rest of the current Bulls coaching staff preach and emphasize the importance of a receiving tight end.

Weiser’s increased importance was first evident during the offseason. Whether it was coming out the backfield or simply lining up next to the offensive line, the use of the tight ends increased during spring and summer practices. With Weiser and junior tight end Mason Schreck, Buffalo now possesses two tight end targets that could be useful in the passing offense, rather than just the running game.

“We believe in our tight ends,” Leipold said. “We have a bunch of guys who can help Joe [Licata] in the passing game and we like to rotate and keep them fresh. Matt has played well and unfortunately, Mason has been dealing with an injury. Having both of those guys with all of the depth at the receiver position … makes us tough to plan for and we like that.”

While seniors Ron Willoughby and Marcus McGill man the outside, sophomores Jacob Martinez and Collin Lisa operate in the slot, it’s the big-bodied Weiser that gives Licata close to a perfect combination of them all: a pass catcher that can be reliable on short plays, but still athletic and strong enough to pick up vital yards after contact.

After years and years of working, Weiser is projected to set career highs in yards and receptions. After his position was an afterthought in the offense in the previous regime, the tight end position has rewarded Leipold with nice play in the team’s first four games.

There still may be much more to come.

Quentin Haynes is the senior sports editor and can be reached at quentin.haynes@ubspectrum.com. Follow him on Twitter at @Haynes_Spectrum.