Special to The Commercial/Bo Rogers
Patrick Wray (89) shares a laugh with Joel Porchia (88) and Thomas Winters (5) during team media day Saturday at Golden Lion Stadium.
Arkansas-Pine Bluff’s traditional tight ends accounted for 10 receptions for 173 yards for all of last season. Patrick Wray had one of those catches for 12 yards in three games.
Going into his fifth year with the Golden Lions, Wray wants to make this season count, even if not statistically. His goal for the season is pretty simple.
“My goal this year is just to help out wherever I can,” he said.
And statistics can’t always measure how a tight end contributes.
The Lions haven’t been very deep at that position — not counting the hybrid tight end/wideout that Rontrell Bailey played in 2011 — in recent years. So putting together a full season will be huge for Wray, a 6-foot-3, 250-pound senior from Fort Valley, Ga.
He missed all of the 2010 season with a broken ankle, earning him an extra season. Last year, he was held to three games after suffering a concussion against Clark Atlanta in the Gateway Classic in St. Louis. Meanwhile, Brian Niedermayer moved from tight end to offensive line, leaving T.J. Shelton the opportunity to accumulate the rest of tight end catches for UAPB.
Asked how he can try to avoid injury this season, Wray said he’s lifted more weights.
“It’s going to happen either way,” Wray said of injury. “Can’t look for it.”
The Lions will start with one tight end in its formation against Langston (Okla.) Saturday in Little Rock, and Wray has the starting nod. But converted quarterback C.J. Branch is expected to line up with Wray in two-tight end sets.
“He ain’t scared to hit,” Wray said. “He’ll play, catch.”
True freshman Kempys Robinson and redshirt freshman Kevin Smith also have worked out at tight end.
“Any given time, someone could start that particular day,” offensive coordinator Eric Dooley said. “You just never know, depending which formation is better for us versus that team we are playing.”
While Wray is the only returning tight end, Dooley said Branch has the best hands on the team for catching passes. Head coach Monte Coleman is confident Wray will contribute more from a statistical standpoint for UAPB.
“Patrick Wray had an outstanding camp,” Coleman said. “He matured for us. He’s going to catch some footballs for us. I’m excited to see what the tight ends can do for us.”
If Wray and the other tight ends stay healthy, statistical goals may seem easy to reach. Shelton tallied the other nine catches for 161 yards and scored two touchdowns last year.
Such stats are big enough for just a day’s work. But Wray is focusing on much more.
“I want catches and everything, but I want the ring most of all,” he said.