Spartans junior tight end Matt Sokol on the progress he's made in preseason camp. Matt Charboneau, The Detroit News
East Lansing — Catch after catch, day after day.
That’s how life is for Matt Sokol, the junior who happens to be the one trying to fill the shoes of a tight end that caught more touchdown passes than any in the history of the Michigan State program.
So how does Sokol prepare himself to be Michigan State’s starting tight end? By doing a lot of the same things Josiah Price did. One of the biggest is spending 10 minutes or so at the end of each practice making catch after catch off the JUGS machine.
The machine fires the ball, one after another, and Sokol is grabbing them.
“I don’t know,” Sokol said when asked how many passes he catches a day. “I try to do that every day, just like Josiah did. He told me in his five years here he caught something like, I don’t know, an unbelievable amount of balls. So I’m trying to beat him on that and see if can. I don’t know if I’m there yet, but 10 minutes every day on that, just myself catching the ball.”
It’s not something Sokol has had to worry about much in the past. He made the transition from quarterback at Rochester Adams to tight end at Michigan State and even enrolled early back in January 2014. However, he also was in the unfortunate position of coming in at a position of depth.
Along with Price and Jamal Lyles, who both graduated after last season, the likes of Paul Lang and Andrew Gleichert were still on campus, making playing time hard to come by. But after seeing time primarily on special teams as a redshirt freshman in 2015, Sokol started get more and more time at tight end in 2016 and notched his first two career receptions.
Now, Sokol finds himself as the veteran in the room.
“It’s been a really exciting fall camp,” Sokol said. “It’s been great to step up and lead some new faces in the room, show the young guys all the things I’ve been taught along the way here. It’s crazy how time flies and that I’m in that position now, but it feels good and I’m really excited for the progress we’ve made in the tight end room.”
Sokol expects to be a big part of that progress. At 6-foot-6 and 250 pounds he’s certainly ready physically.
And now that he’s had the benefit of being in the program for four years, most expect him to make a big jump.
“He’s been behind some pretty good guys through the years,” co-offensive coordinator and tight ends coach Jim Bollman said, “but he has really stepped his own game up and knows what we need from him and has done a great job improving. He has great confidence in all aspects of things, in blocking, in receiving, in all different things.”
Playing behind those guys has helped build that confidence, Sokol said. He was quick to point out each of his former teammates as playing a key role in his development and still talks with Price on a regular basis.
“All those guys taught me so much about the game of football,” Sokol said. “What it takes to be a college athlete on and off the field. I’ve learned so much from Josiah Price — every little thing that comes with the position. Technique, how to run routes, tips on blocking. He spent a lot of time with me in the film room showing me how to watch film. I’ve carried that from him and every day he would catch ball off (the machine) so I try to follow that and do that every day.
“The same with Jamal and Paul Lang, Dylan Chmura when he was here and Andrew Gleichert. They’ve all shown me so much I can’t thank everyone enough for all the help they’ve given me.”
It’s something Sokol not only appreciates, it’s something he’s passing on.
The Spartans lack experience at tight end, however, they don’t lack talent. With redshirt freshman Noah Davis in the mix for playing time along with true freshmen Matt Dotson and Jack Camper, Sokol is working just as hard in his role as a leader.
“I think he had a great example from Josiah,” quarterback Brian Lewerke said of Sokol. “So I think he’s stepping into that role with the younger guys and has done a great job.”
As much as Sokol is trying to bring along the freshmen, however, he also is ready to jump on his chance as a starter.
And, he believes, his days as a backup have him primed to take advantage.
“I was on scout team for two years and every day brought a lot of intensity there,” Sokol said. “But at same time I always had an eye toward one day it would be my time here and it would be my opportunity.”