Miami’s Becker back in the mix at tight end

Miami University Redhawks tight end Nate Becker, a fourth-year junior, is back in the mix after a foot injury required surgery last year. NICK GRAHAM/STAFF

Nate Becker has learned more about his feet than he ever wanted to know.

Miami’s fourth-year junior was the RedHawks’ projected starting tight end going into fall practice last season before he suffered what’s known as a Lisfranc fracture in his left foot. If left untreated, his toes eventually could have started splitting apart. The Carmel, Ind., product underwent season-ending surgery, costing him a chance to participate in Miami’s memorable comeback from an 0-6 start to 6-6 and a berth in the St. Petersburg (Fla.) Bowl.

“That was definitely frustrating,” the 6-foot-5, 253-pound Becker said Saturday after the ninth of Miami’s set of 15 spring practices, culminating in the Spring Event on April 22. “One good thing is the coaches kind of let me take a coach’s role. They let me speak what I had to say because they know I know the offense. When the turnaround starts and we’re going to the bowl game, you want to be a part of it. I wasn’t with them, so that kind of sucked, but I get three more years of it when the team’s already good, so I’m not complaining.”

Becker is hoping that an injury during his true freshman season might help convince the NCAA to give him a fifth year of eligibility.

Becker, who turned 21 on March 24, and the RedHawks worked out for about two hours Saturday morning on Ben Roethlisberger Field inside the David and Anita Dauch Indoor Sports Center, and coach Chuck Martin described his fourth spring camp as “fantastic.”

“It’s a blast,” Martin said. “We’ve had a lot of fun. We have a lot of good young players who want to be good and want to be coached. They like to compete and get after each other, and we have a lot of older guys playing at a high level and doing things they couldn’t do a year ago. The older guys are clicking things off pretty early. They’re playing at a high level and not making a lot of dumb mistakes. When you watch the film, you don’t see a lot of dumb errors.”

Martin was especially pleased with the work of junior Paul Moses, sophomores Quinn Calcagno and Dean Lemon and third-year sophomore Brad Earnest at defensive end. Miami lost both of last year’s starters, Austin Gearing and J.T. Jones, to graduation.

“Those kids are a little farther along,” he said. “Some have played some. They’re playing at a high level, which is encouraging.”

Martin also was pleased to have Becker back on the field, teaming up with junior Ryan Smith to give the RedHawks a pair of talented, versatile tight ends. Smith stepped in last season to set career highs with 31 catches, 356 yards and five touchdowns, one season after Becker played in all 12 of Miami’s games and started 10 as a redshirt freshman.

“He’s looking good,” said Martin, who loudly criticized Becker’s route-running after he failed to make a catch while being well-covered. “Obviously, there’s some rust, and there’s the anxiety of coming back after (Smith) played so well, but there’s no job at tight end he can’t do. Some guys can block. Some guys can catch passes. I’ll take a good blocker or a good receiver, but he and Smith can run and catch and they’ll plant their face and block. The other guys improved while he was out, so he’s a little behind from where he was.”

Becker does feel pressure to get his game together, especially since the stakes have been raised for the entire program.

“Before I left compared to where we are now is unbelievable,” he said. “I’m at the point where I have to get my stuff together. There are things I have to do to compete and get back on the field, because they’re ridiculously good right now.

“Everything feels good,” he added about his foot. “It still feels weird sometimes, because I’m doing a lot more than I did in the first six months after the surgery, but it’s feeling fine. There’s nothing wrong with it. I never blame my foot for anything I mess up. It’s all me now.”

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