Overland Park The tight end must bruise his knuckles with the rest of the blockers, and then, when it comes time to catch, he has to showcase hands soft enough to hold onto wobbly passes.
He plays football's ultimate hybrid position. Usually not as big as the offensive linemen and not as fast as the receivers, he needs toughness and smarts. A good tight end knows how to run a route that finishes a yard or two beyond the first-down marker. And if the defense just won't let him do that, then he catches it a yard short and wills his way to a first down.
Free State's Mike Santee, one of the many seniors emerging from the massive shadows of last year's senior class, played the tight end position to near perfection Friday night in a 57-14 beating of host Shawnee Mission South.
Santee, who also plays linebacker, caught four passes for 71 yards and a touchdown. He also joined offensive linemen John Bergman, Matt Frantz, Josh Hill, Michael Lisher and Brandon Mailand in consistently blowing open rushing lanes on a night ball carriers Chucky Hunter, Craig Rosenstengle, Ryder Werts, Cameron Schmidt and Jack Caywood combined for 349 rushing yards.
"It's a blast," Santee said of playing tight end. "You bang every play, and then the play you're not banging you're going out and catching balls."
Rosenstengle hit a wide-open Santee near the goal line, and the tight end had no trouble finishing the 23-yard touchdown that put Free State up 21-0 with 9:48 left in the first half. Santee also made big catches on the first two scoring drives.
"Tight end's a glorified offensive lineman in most cases, but in this offense you get to catch it once in a while," Free State coach Bob Lisher said. "As long as you don't drop it, you're going to get some balls thrown to you."
Maybe even if you do drop it.
"Catching the ball in practice was kind of rough," Santee said. "I just focused in and caught every ball tonight. In practice it was the opposite. I had a few slip-ups, and I was getting worried."
What happens when a player drops a pass in practice?
"Re-run it until you catch it," Santee said.
He caught on just in time to help lead his team.
The Firebirds' talent isn't as loud as last year's. So what?
"I think we've adapted pretty well," Santee said. "As soon as last season was over, we knew we didn't have those guys making plays for us anymore, and we had to step it up as seniors and make the plays ourselves."
Leaders sometimes are difficult to find on a team the year after a standout class departs.
"Mike's just a tough kid," Bob Lisher said. "He's done everything we've asked him to do for three years. He works very hard. He's a hard hitter. He's smart. Couldn't be more pleased with his senior leadership so far."
Part of that leadership was evident in practice when Santee worked hard to perfect the theme of the week for the players up front: Finish your blocks.
The key to that?
"Keep moving your feet until you hear the whistle blow," Santee said.
And then go out for a pass and keep moving your feet until you get the first down. Tight end isn't a position for everyone. It happens to fit Santee perfectly.