UF tight ends ready to step up

Published: Thursday, August 7, 2008 at 9:47 p.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, August 7, 2008 at 9:47 p.m.

Sophomore tight end Aaron Hernandez has grown close to Cornelius Ingram in the past year. That made the news of Ingram’s torn anterior cruciate ligament especially tough for the player Florida will lean heavily on to replace him.

“I’ve just got to step it up for CI, that’s it,” Hernandez said after Thursday night’s practice. “He’s a great player so I’ve just got to step it up the best I can.”

Hernandez, redshirt senior Tate Casey and sophomore Christopher Coleman, who spent last season on the scout team, are suddenly the only tight ends Florida has in the wake of Ingram’s injury. Hernandez, who is an imposing 6-foot-3 and 255 pounds, has proven to be the biggest playmaker of the bunch. The Bristol, Conn., native caught nine passes for 151 yards and two touchdowns as a freshman, including a 55-yard reception in the second half of Florida’s 51-31 win at South Carolina.

Hernandez has looked even more refined during the first week of fall drills.

“CI helped me get where I am right now and so did Tate,” Hernandez said.

“That’s why I am where I am right now.”

Casey, meanwhile, is grateful he’s even with the Gators. Casey missed all of last season after undergoing two surgeries on his right elbow. He said he was forced to make all A’s during the Spring and Summer A semester in order for the NCAA to grant him another year of eligibility. Additionally, he had to take up two minors and do an internship this fall to remain eligible.

“For me it was real stressful because for eight months I didn’t know whether I was going to play this year or not,” Casey said. “A lot of stuff took place and it was up and down. It ended up working out for the best.”

Casey emerged as Florida’s top tight end as a freshman in 2004. He has made 12 career starts, including six as a junior in 2006.

“From my standpoint it’s the same as it’s always been ­— just come out and work as hard as you can,” Casey said. “That’s no different than two days ago or last year and two years ago.”

Hernandez knows Ingram’s value was so great, it will be hard to make up for.

“Tate’s a really good tight end as well. He’ll step in too. But right now, the both of us can’t make up for CI,” Hernandez said. “Because CI was a great tight end.”

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