Growing up in Simi Valley, Calif., Miami Hurricanes tight end Beau Sandland didn’t pay much attention to college football.
“I was more of an NFL fan and I didn’t get into college football until I started getting recruited,” Sandland said this week.
Make no mistake, though, he eventually figured out where the laundry list of NFL greats at his position – Bubba Franks, Jeremy Shockey, Kellen Winslow Jr., Greg Olsen and Jimmy Graham – were all coming from.
Eventually that served as big a reason as any why Sandland, the No. 1 junior college tight end in the country last year according to Rivals.com, decided to move across the country and play for Al Golden.
Last Saturday night against Savannah State, the 6-5, 255-pound junior caught his first pass, his first touchdown and began displaying the kind of ability that might make him the next great tight end to emerge from Coral Gables.
Sandland, who didn’t have a pass thrown his way in UM’s first two games, caught a team-leading six passes for 76 yards on only 25 snaps in the game, shedding tackles with brute force. He has made himself deserving of more playing time, Golden said, along with freshman receiver Stacy Coley, running back Gus Edwards and offensive lineman Alex Gall.
“Sometimes because he’s a junior college player we think it’s not his third game. It was his third game, so that was good progress for him,” said Golden, a former tight end at Penn State.
“Beau can get vertical and he really can run. He’s got soft hands. What you don’t really see as much in practice because we’re not really bringing guys to the ground is his ability to break tackles or twist out of them. I was impressed by that. His run after contact is good. We’re pushing him in the run game to make him more a part of that. But there’s no question his speed showed up and he looked very comfortable. So we’ll continue to push him.”
Sandland, one of five players in Miami’s last signing class to arrive in the spring, said he finally feels “really comfortable” with the playbook now and is no longer making mental errors – whether it’s formation or assignments.
“It definitely takes time,” Sandland said. “It’s not just the mental side of it. It’s the physical side of it too. The speed of the game, smartness of the defenders and physicality of it. You got to step up in every category not just the mental side of it.
“Hand placement is something I’ve really emphasized, especially foot placement in the run block game. We’ve also worked a lot of first and second level releases. Being a tight end you have to release off the D-end and then you got to release off a linebacker or safety. So you’re essentially running off of two releases in one route. [Tight ends coach Larry] Scott has really emphasized to me and the entire unit that we’re all 6-4-plus, 250-plus, and we need to use our size and be physical.”
Being physical off the line of scrimmage wasn’t something Sandland had to do a lot of in high school or at Los Angeles Pierce College. He was always more of a receiver than a tight end, lining up in the slot in a spread offense and not with a hand in the dirt. His body also needed work and since his arrival he’s gone from 20 percent body fat to 15 while getting stronger. He benches 350 pounds, squats 385 and power cleans 308 pounds (strongest among Miami’s tight ends). His vertical leap is nearly 30 inches.
“He’s a tough dude,” Hurricanes linebacker Jimmy Gaines said. “You got to make sure to bring it with Beau. He had a great game and he showed other people what he can do, what he’s been doing in practice, how tough he is to bring down.
“He’s also the funniest tight end that we have. He always says some sly little comments, real subtle. You always walk away saying ’What did he just say?’ ”
Backup quarterback Ryan Williams, who could very well be Miami’s starting quarterback next season, said Sandland and him have built great chemistry together in practices running together on the second team. It showed Saturday as Williams found him three times including for the score on Miami’s final possession of the first half.
“Me and Beau spend a lot of time throwing because Clive and Asante really get all the reps with Stephen so we have a good feel for each other and what we’re going to do,” Williams said. “Earlier [last] week in practice I missed him on a couple throws and told him, ‘Don’t worry about it. I’m going to get you in the game.’ Beau was where he needed to be and I got him some passes.
“You can see what he can do after the catch. We need to keep carrying that on through the season.”