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Dalton Kincaid

Rick Bowmer / Associated Press file

Utah tight end Dalton Kincaid (86) warms up before their NCAA college football game against Oregon State Saturday, Oct. 1, 2022, in Salt Lake City. This year’s draft class features an abundance of tight ends, and some are even calling it better than the bumper crop of 2017. “The tight end group is the best I’ve seen in the last 10 years,” NFL Network analyst Daniel Jeremiah proclaimed.

When Utah’s Dalton Kincaid is selected in this week’s NFL Draft — possibly on Thursday as a first-round pick — the Las Vegas native will cap one of the unlikeliest draft journeys in recent memory.

Kincaid only participated in one year of high school football, as a senior at Faith Lutheran in 2017. And if you only saw him in the first half of that campaign, it’s unlikely you came away thinking “future NFL star.”

Kincaid transferred to Faith with basketball in mind and had to be convinced to join the football team as a secondary pursuit. He had the measurables, though — he now checks in at 6-foot-4, 242 pounds — and he started fast. In his first ever high school football game, Kincaid proved to be a natural, lining up at tight end and catching nine passes for 100 yards.

Things slowed after that, however. Over the next five contests, Kincaid posted just 10 receptions for 221 yards. But according to former Faith coach Vernon Fox, Kincaid’s size, versatility and natural football acumen kept him engaged.

“He was smart,” Fox says. “He was able to adapt and catch on to what we were doing, and we were able to move him around. He was smart enough to not just play one position. That was the key.”

All Kincaid needed was an opportunity.

When Faith lost its top wide receiver to injury midway through the season, Fox tabbed Kincaid to split outside and take over the role.

“We played him inside, and he was a terrible mismatch for someone that big playing inside in the slot. And then at the point in the season when our No. 1 pass catcher went down with an injury, Dalton had no problem stepping up and moving outside. We spread him out to the edge and he became our main threat that we would get the ball to.”

Kincaid exploded over the final four games of the 2017 campaign, hauling in 18 catches for 424 yards and six touchdowns. Even in a season-ending loss to Bishop Gorman, Kincaid showed out with 82 yards and a TD.

Kincaid finished his one year of high school ball with 37 catches, 745 yards and eight touchdowns.

That was enough to earn Kincaid a late “offer” from the University of San Diego. “Offer” is in quotation marks because it was not a scholarship offer — the FCS Toreros didn’t offer scholarships. It was simply an invitation to play football a little while longer, and after some consideration, Kincaid decided to take them up on it.

Fox had some connections on the USD staff, and it didn’t take long for him to start hearing reports about Kincaid.

“I remember having early conversations with those guys and they raved over how good he was and how athletic he was,” Fox says. “[A USD coach] literally told me, ‘Man, this guy is gonna go to the league.’ And I’m like, wow. We knew that he was talented and had great potential, but to hear those things, it made me feel proud and really happy for him.”

Kincaid caught 11 touchdown passes as a freshman at USD, then went for 835 yards and eight touchdowns as a sophomore in 2019. Seeking a step up in competition, Kincaid transferred to Utah and continued to develop into the top tight end prospect in the nation.

As a senior in 2022 he led the nation’s tight ends in receiving yards (890), caught eight touchdowns and earned All-America honors. That production, combined with his size/speed/athleticism package, has Kincaid projected to be one of the first tight ends off the board when the draft commences (along with another Las Vegas product, Georgia TE Darnell Washington).

“I’d be lying to sit here and say I knew this guy would be a first-round pick,” Fox says. “Heck, we probably could have used him to an even greater extent had we known that he had that level of versatility. But you saw his progression and you saw the pathway that he was taking, where he increasingly got better. He stayed on that path of getting better. That comes from hard work and commitment.”

Gorman trio set to hear names called

This figures to be another banner week for Bishop Gorman football program, as the Gaels will likely see three alums drafted into the NFL.

UCLA quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson, who piloted Gorman to a state championship in 2017, is slated as a mid-round selection, while Tennessee receiver Cedric Tillman could go as high as the first round. Stanford cornerback Kyu Blu Kelly is projected as a Day 2 or 3 pick.

Though Bishop Gorman has produced more than its share of future pros, former coach Kenny Sanchez never took for granted that Thompson-Robinson, Tillman and Kelly would achieve their NFL dreams.

They had to work for it over the past four years, and it looks like their efforts are about to pay off.

“As amazing a collection of talent as they are, you can never predict whether they’re going to make it to the NFL or not,” Sanchez says. “They’re the ones putting all the work in, all the time, all the effort and sacrifice. They did it. It’s cool now being able to watch their growth through college and now into the pros.”

Click to enlarge photo

UCLA quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson (1) walks off the field before an NCAA college football game between UCLA and Stanford Saturday, Dec. 19, 2020, in Pasadena, Calif.

Las Vegas in the 2023 NFL Draft

Dalton Kincaid, TE, Utah

High School: Faith Lutheran

2022 stats: 70 receptions, 890 yards, 8 TDs

Projected round: 1-2

Cedric Tillman, WR, Tennessee

High school: Bishop Gorman

2022 stats: 37 receptions, 417 yards, 3 TDs

Projected round: 1-2

Darnell Washington, TE, Georgia

High school: Desert Pines

2022 stats: 28 receptions, 454 yards, 2 TDs

Projected round: 1-2

Kyu Blu Kelly, CB, Stanford

High school: Bishop Gorman

2022 stats: 35 tackles, 6 passes defensed, 0 INTs

Projected round: 3-4

Dorian Thompson-Robinson, QB, UCLA

High school: Bishop Gorman

2022 stats: 69.6% completion, 3,169 yards, 27 TDs, 10 INTs

Projected round: 4-6

Mike Grimala can be reached at 702-948-7844 or [email protected]. Follow Mike on Twitter at twitter.com/mikegrimala.

Article written by #LasVegasSun

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