He landed in tight end heaven, a school that has produced the best tight ends in the country.
From Bubba Franks to Jeremy Shockey to Kellen Winslow to Jimmy Graham to, last year, Clive Walford, "The U" might as well be "Tight End U." And yet, Beau Sandland transferred out. Bolted. Buried on the depth chart, seeing no light at the end of the tunnel his final collegiate season, he left Miami, Fla. for Bozeman, Mon.
“A lot of people thought I was crazy and stupid for leaving," Sandland said Sunday. "But in my mind, I would’ve been crazy and stupid to stay.”
So he redshirted that 2014 season at FCS Montana State, waited, waited some more and then made the most of his lone season at the school with 37 receptions for 632 yards (17.1 avg.) and nine touchdowns. Now, Sandland will be one of the 15 tight ends at the NFL scouting combine, trying to prove he is the rare, complete tight end. He certainly took the circuitous road to Indianapolis — from junior college to South Florida to Montana State.
Betting on himself is starting to pay off.
“I’ve always had a lot of confidence in myself," Sandland said. "I’ve always wanted to play in the NFL and nothing was going to stop me from that."
This "crazy journey" began at Simi Valley (Calif.) High School where big-time Division I schools hardly ever recruit football players — Sandland won a whopping seven games in four seasons. Into his senior year, Sandland was told he was a non-qualifier by his academic advisers. Whereas most JUCO players are JUCO players due to poor SAT scores, failing classes or a rough overall GPA, Sandland simply took the wrong classes. As a junior, he was in general English and Science classes instead of the clearinghouse-required CP (College Prep) English and CP Science classes.
“Simple as that," he said. "But I didn’t know and my counselors didn’t do a good job of informing me — it was too little, too late.
"They pretty much said, ‘Tough cookie. If you want to, you’ll have to do the junior college route.’ That’s definitely a tough path. I look back at it now and it’s kind of a badge of honor. I hear of junior college guys and have a lot of respect for them because that’s the long, strenuous path.”
Onto Los Angeles Pierce College, Sandland became the nation's No. 1-rated JUCO tight end and earned the scholarship at Miami.
Then came more frustration. He couldn't get on the field. Sandland caught only nine passes in 2013 and decided to bite the bullet again and transfer west.
Why languish on the bench if he viewed himself as NFL player?
"I just felt like I wasn’t getting a fair crack at it," Sandland said. "I knew what type of player I was and what type of player I could be in the right opportunity at the right place. That wasn’t Miami. ... I didn’t want to be one of those guys in five, 10 years looking back saying ‘Coulda, woulda, shoulda.’ I didn’t want to sit there as a third-string tight end. That wasn’t who I was. So I decided to take control of my own destiny. My future."
Indeed, by 2015, he finally did get the chance to showcase his talent, albeit at the FCS level. The competition wasn't the same, but the 6-foot-5, 250-pound Sandland did get prove himself as a do-it-all tight end.
And those players, in 2016, are difficult to find.
Sandland views himself as a tight end who'll keep defensive coordinators guessing.
"You see a lot of tight ends who are really good blocking tight ends," Sandland said. "They’re strong in the trenches but they’re pretty much an extra tackle. They’re probably not that fast or athletic or agile, can’t run good routes and can’t catch that great. Then, there’s some guys who are great athletes and freakish wide receivers. They have great speed and hands — they’re glorified wide receivers — but they can’t get in the trenches and do the dirty work.
"I think I bring both of those. I'm not one-dimensional."
That's why Sandland points to the recently retired Heath Miller as one of the best tight ends this generation.
Looking back, it was a blessing to work with so many coaches in so many systems over three cross-country moves. He tried to be a "sponge" at each stop. And Sandland sees that gap between BCS and FCS schools as overblown.
This tight end prospect is still as confident as he was when he left Miami behind.
"If you want things to happen, you have to take advantage of it," he said. "You have to do it. You can’t just sit back and expect it to happen."
Five other tight ends to track in Indianapolis...
Hunter Henry (Arkansas): The best tight end in this year's draft and it's not really close. Henry is 6-5, 253 and beat linebackers in coverage with regularity. Has the potential to be the next dangerous, seam-splitting tight end in the NFL. Finished with 739 yards and three touchdowns, also chipping in as a willing blocker.
Nick Vannett (Ohio State): Wasn't featured much at all in Ohio State's passing game (38 receptions the last two years), but Vannett looked comfortable downfield all Senior Bowl week and can play in-line, at tight end, out wide and in the backfield. Great size (6-5, 256) and sneaky athletic, he could impress in Indy.
Austin Hooper (Stanford): Like Miami, Stanford has been pumping out the tight ends with Hooper following the footsteps of Zach Ertz and Coby Fleener. His father played at San Diego State and his uncle played at Stanford. Last season, Hooper had 438 yards and six touchdowns.
Bryce Williams (East Carolina): Walked onto Marshall's team, and then walked on at ECU. Brings experience as a fullback and tight end. A huge target at 6-5, 260, he caught 58 passes for 588 yards and four scores in 2015 though will likely need to improve his blocking in the run game at the next level.
Ben Braunecker (Harvard): Dominated physically at the Ivy League level, mauling defenders in the ground game. Equally effective downfield, too, with 850 yards and eight touchdowns. Now, he's trying to make the rare Ivy-to-NFL leap.
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