There are very few positions more thankless on a football team than that of the blocking tight end.
You know, that guy that that lines up next to your stud fantasy football receiver and enables him to score the touchdowns and show off his dance moves in the endzone.
Not Rob Gronkowski or Jimmy Graham. No, think more along the lines of Rhett Ellison or Tyler Kroft.
Never heard of them? Well, that’s the point.
Occupying this less-than-glamorous role for Penn football these last few years has been senior Nicholas Bokun.
Bokun, an Indiana native who has worked himself up from special teams contributor to starting tight end, has been sacrificing his body for years so that stars like senior wide receiver Justin Watson and senior running back Tre Solomon can grab the highlights.
“I take a lot of pride in just doing what I’m asked to do,” Bokun said. “We’ve had a bunch of great skill players here these last few years, so my role has been blocking, and that’s something that I’ve embraced.”
Well, for Bokun and by extension, the entire Penn team, his commitment to his role has paid off. Not only has Bokun’s blocking opened holes for guys like Watson, but it’s also opened opportunities in the passing game for Bokun himself, and to his credit, he’s more than taken advantage.
Coming into this season with just five catches and 59 yards for his career, Bokun has exploded offensively in his final campaign, posting 14 catches and 204 yards already to go along with two touchdowns, making him the third-most productive receiver on the entire team.
When asked if this increase in targets has been a welcomed change, Bokun did not mince words.
“Absolutely! I love getting catches obviously, but I love blocking too," Bokun said. "You know, it’s fun whoever’s catching, whoever’s scoring touchdowns. It’s all fun. But, it’s definitely nice to be a part of it.”
Bokun isn’t the only one who’s enjoyed watching his fortunes rise. Star receiver Watson beamed when talking about his good friend catching passes and finding the end zone.
“Everytime he has a catch or scores a touchdown, I’m the first one down there jumping on top of him,” Watson said. “I love that, because with all the time he’s spent blocking for me on our screens, he’s done so much to help my career. Just to finally see him see some of that success on the receiving end is just awesome.”
According to Watson, the unbridled enthusiasm for Bokun’s rise to receiving prominence is a testament to all of the work that Bokun has put in and the type of attitude he brings to practice each day.
“We saw big steps all offseason with the way he’s worked, especially in the spring and in camp. You could see a difference in his speed, his route running, and the confidence in his hands.
“He just loves being here," Watson continued. “Everyday, he’s probably the guy that brings the best energy. Day in and day out, he comes with the attitude that you want everyone to bring. You just know that he’d do anything for this team. Especially with the job he’s had these last few years, I think everybody is just happy to see him celebrating some of his own touchdowns.”
As conference play heats up, the Quakers could use even more production out of their newfound star. With a matchup against fellow Ivy League bottom-dweller Brown approaching this weekend, Bokun and the rest of the Red and Blue (2-4, 0-3 Ivy) know that, although a third consecutive championship may be out of reach, there is still plenty for which to play.
“We talk all the time about who we’re playing for and why we’re playing the game,” Bokun said. “For us, we’re not necessarily playing only to win. We’re obviously playing to win, but that’s not the only reason we’re out here. There’s not really a chance for us to win the league this year, but we play for each other and for all the people in our lives that have made sacrifices for us.”
For Bokun and the rest of his fellow seniors, this is it. This is the grand finale. After Brown (2-4, 0-3 Ivy), Penn has just three more games. For almost every member of the senior class, these are the last times to strap on the pads and to buckle up the helmet.
So you can throw conference records and championship odds aside. There’s still work to be done for Bokun and company.
Because, for Bokun, this football team and this school deserve maximum effort.
“Penn has changed my life in a lot of different ways,” Bokun said. “The values that this program embodies have shaped my life and have shaped who I am as a person. I knew that Penn was a really good football school and a really good academic school, so I figured that it would be positive for my life, but I never could have imagined that it would change my life in so many different ways.”
So whether it’s blocking in the trenches or celebrating his own touchdowns in the end zone, you can be sure that Nicholas Bokun will come to Providence ready to play on Saturday.
All comments eligible for publication in Daily Pennsylvanian, Inc. publications.