Westerville Central High School senior Nick Vannett lined up as a tight end for the first time as a sixth-grader playing his first season of organized football.

Westerville Central High School senior Nick Vannett lined up as a tight end for the first time as a sixth-grader playing his first season of organized football.

It was the following two years he spent at fullback that shaped his give-the-ball-to-me mentality, however.

"Absolutely," the Ohio State University recruit said last week, recalling that his return to tight end as a freshman was predicated on the fact that he simply had grown too big for the backfield. "I liked being involved more in the offense. The tight end doesn't do a lot in middle school. But now, hey, I love catching passes and scoring touchdowns."

That makes Vannett an ideal candidate to play the position in the dwindling number of offenses that still emphasize a six-man line.

"The beautiful thing is that when Nick is in the huddle, (opposing) defenses still don't know where he's going to line up," said coach John Magistro, who upon taking the job at Central before the 2009 season immediately began to look for ways to better utilize the 6-foot-6, 240-pound Vannett. "With the way he reacts in space, we can put him out wide or in a slot like a receiver. He's good for yards after catch, too. He's not one of those tight ends who just catches the ball and falls down. And, of course, we can bring in him tight and run behind him because he's one heck of a blocker. He just flat out pancakes guys.

"There's not much Nick can't do, really. That's why Ohio State recruited him. There are just so many options available with a guy like that, a big, physical kid with a tremendous skill set."

Magistro got the order correct in detailing Vannett's considerable assets, at least in regard to how college recruiters itemize a prospect's resources.

Tight ends are expected to do more these days than was the case when Olentangy Orange coach Brian Cross played the position at Bowling Green during the early 1970s.

"When I played, they looked at a guy's ability to block first, then run and then catch," said Cross, who was about 6-2, 230 when he played for the Falcons. "Now they're looking for big guys who can catch the ball first, then run and then block.

"The height is the biggest difference I see. Some are 6-7, maybe 6-8 anymore. They're almost all in the 6-5 range today if they're playing in a major program. And being that big with speed and athleticism, well, you just can't ignore the possibilities in your passing game."

But the recent advent of both the spread and triple-option, neither of which features a tight end, likely means that fewer of Vannett's caliber are being developed at the prep level. For example, Ohio State recruits nationally, but coach Jim Tressel was forced to convert former Dublin Coffman receiver Jake Stoneburner when he needed a pass-catching tight end to add another dimension to the Buckeyes' offense.

"It's the same with fullbacks, too. I'm afraid those positions are going the way of the dinosaur after they were our bread and butter for years and years," Ready coach Larry Wolf said. "The tight end has almost become an H-back in some offenses. I guess the 'H' stands for hybrid, because that's what the tight end is today."

"The rules give all the advantages to the passing offenses, and playing the tight end the way most teams do now is about creating mismatches (with the defense). It works so teams will keep doing it. Tight ends when you still see them, anyway are just bigger, faster and more athletic than they've ever been."

This year's senior class in central Ohio nonetheless features a number of top tight ends. Another one likely to end up in a major college program is Walnut Ridge's Austin Traylor, who is 6-4, 220 and has been timed at 4.7 seconds in the 40. Considered a four-star recruit by rivals.com as is Vannett, Traylor is versatile enough to end up playing defensive end or linebacker in college.

Meanwhile, one of the juniors to keep an eye on is Ready's Brandon Gutheil, who has the size (6-5, 250) recruiters covet.

"He's the best-looking tight end I've had, anyway," Wolf said. "We'd like to find a way to get him the ball more, but it's difficult because teams are jamming him off the line so much. He's still a diamond in the rough, but he's certainly got a lot of the X-factors with his size and athleticism and everything."

As for the demise of the tight end, both Cross and Magistro believe the fact that the NFL still emphasizes the position so much, it's hard to imagine the college game without one. Cross, however, believes the Stoneburner case points to a growing trend.

"It's becoming harder for colleges to find one," said Cross, who developed several college tight ends running the wing-T offense at Grove City during the late 1980s and throughout the '90s, including Ohio University recruit Andy Canter and Brown recruit Matt Heinz. "The bigger and more physical receivers with speed, they can be converted in college (to play tight end). You'll probably see that a little more with fewer high school kids playing it."

Watkins Memorial junior Reno Reda, who is 6-5, 225 and whose early suitors include Wisconsin, played tight end before moving inside to play right tackle when the Warriors switched to the triple-option this season.

"I really loved playing tight end," he said. "I miss it. It's just the way the game's changing, I guess."