2023 Preview: Tight End

Scholarship Returning: Thomas Fidone, Nate Boerkircher,

Scholarship Lost: Travis Vokolek (graduated), Chris Hickman (retired), James Carnie (retired), AJ Rollins (moved to DE), Chase Androff (retired), Chancellor Brewington (retired)

Scholarship incoming: Arik Gilbert (Georgia/LSU), Jake Appleget (moved from defense), Ismael Smith-Flores, Janiran Bonner (moved to TE)

Phil Steele B1G Position Ranking:
Included in “REC” from WR rankings I believe

Wednesday was maybe a bit of a buzzkill, so my apologies about that. With that said, this is one of my favorite rooms on the team. With our unknowns at WR and needing RBs to help the offensive tackles out on pass protection like we mentioned in the RB preview, the TEs could add a layer of comfort for OC Saaterfield and HC Rhule.

This room lost it’s starter and leading receiver from last year in Vokolek, who had 20 receptions for 240 yards. However, it wouldn’t shock me to see 3 guys at a time from the above lists on the field at the same time early in 2023. Lots of 2 TE sets with Bonner at the Fullback/H-back spot could help while we try to get the young WRs up to speed and help our tackles block the edge rushers.

But more than just helping out in those capacities, this position gets me pumped because of our talent here. Let’s get into them:

Thomas Fidone – TE1 and it’s not even close. For how good a guy like Austin Allen, Jack Stoll, or Travis Vokolek were for us, Fidone is going to be better than all of them. If he can stay healthy. It will be hard to get him off the field, as he is a massive human but runs like a WR. His blocking is great too. The former #1 TE in his recruiting class has been plagued with injuries since coming to Lincoln, but as soon as he gets a ball thrown his way you’ll see what i’m talking about. I think he and Kemp may challenge for most receptions this year on the team. Don’t let the knee brace bother you, it’s precautionary.

Arik Gilbert – The former LSU and Georgia TE was also ranked as the #1 TE in his class back when he came out of high school. As most know, Gilbert is awaiting a waiver from the NCAA to be eligible this season as this isn’t his first transfer. I know the staff in the spring were confident they would get the waiver, but part of me thinks they are starting to think it’s slipping away. Tons of hype around this guy with media and fans, but he has to work on his consistency to see the field regularly. Too many drops. But I also understand sometimes it’s tough to lock in day in and day out when you don’t know if you can even play this year. Hopefully we get good news here and things ramp up from there.

Nate Boerkircher – The former walk on is our second TE right now, and it doesn’t even matter if Gilbert is eligible or not, he would still be behind this former walk-on. Boerkircher is the poster child for what a walk-on can get done in Lincoln, and also illustrates just how deep Nebraska high school football is developing TEs for Power 5 play. I expect a ton of sets where Boerkircher and Fidone are in the game at the same time. While Boerkircher isn’t quite a Fidone level talent, he’s a very good B1G TE.

Jake Appleget – Appleget was an afterthought offer from the Frost staff, and I thought he should have received one way sooner than he did. No matter, what’s in the past is in the past. He makes the move to TE from defense and he is really looking the part. He is much more athletic than some of the guys in the room, and he seems to be picking up the offense much faster than anticipated. Look for him to see a decent role behind Boerkircher if Gilbert doesn’t get the waiver.

Ismael Smith-Flores – A true freshman, the staff hopes they can redshirt him and give him a chance to get acclimated to college football. That should be the case, so not a ton to write here.

Janiran Bonner – Bonner will be in the flex position of a little fullback and a little H-back. Quite frankly i’m excited to see how this move turns out for him and how we utilize the position.


While there isn’t a ton of scholarship players here, there is a ton of quality. I would put Fidone and Boerkircher up against any other TEs in the conference as the best 1-2 guys.

This group will help ease the pain of some early season issues that will be caused by poor tackle play or inexperienced WRs (or injuries). Sims has been able to work with our top 2 guys all offseason and just like he has with Kemp, he’s developed great chemistry. I expect a ton of sets like this, with 2 TEs and 2 WRs, one of which is Kemp so you only need one “outside” WR.

And let’s all not forget, that we have the #1 ranked TE in the 2024 class committed in Carter Nelson from Ainsworth, Nebraska. With this entire group returning for the 2024 season, it looks to get even stronger next year.

Join us on Monday where we go over the most important spot for Nebraska this year, the OL!

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