MISSOULA — Portland State tight end Charlie Taumoepeau could potentially hear his name called in the NFL Draft this coming April.
Montana could be tired of hearing his name Saturday and the Griz may have it echoing in their dreams later that night if they aren’t able to slow down the highly touted senior.
Taumoepeau is widely considered the top tight end in the FCS, being named a preseason first-team All-American in 2019 after earning three postseason second-team honors in 2018. He was also named to the preseason watch list for the Walter Payton Award, given to the top offensive player in the FCS
Standing at 6-foot-3 and 245 pounds, Taumoepeau has caught the eye of NFL scouts and was called “the secret weapon in the Big Sky” by NFL Draft Diamonds.
“That’s definitely cool,” Taumoepeau said ahead of the Vikings’ game against Montana at 3 p.m. MT Saturday in Hillsboro, Oregon, and broadcast on ABC/FOX Montana.
“I’m focused on the season, but I’m very aware and have heard little things like that before. Being a little kid and growing up, that’s always the end goal is to get to that level. So, just hearing little bits and pieces is definitely exciting.”
Taumoepeau is a tight end who can line up inside or can spread out wide. The thing is he never played wide receiver until his junior year of high school, suiting up at running back and middle linebacker when he started football in the sixth grade, just a few years after his family moved to California from Tonga, located in the South Pacific.
Portland State coach Bruce Barnum saw the talent Taumoepeau brought to the field at Federal Way High School in Washington. He liked everything from the quick first step to the soft hands to the potential for growth.
Barnum thought he got a steal when Taumoepeau accepted the only Division I offer he received, joining a group of mainly junior college transfers Barnum took in his first year as Portland State’s head coach.
“He’s probably one of the most natural athletes I’ve ever been around,” Barnum said. “He’s got sneaky speed. He’s run by the Pac-12. He does well against the Big Sky with the ball in his hands when he’s healthy. He’s just a great kid and a fun kid to watch play.”
The NFL scouts have come calling as Taumoepeau builds his resume with big games against FBS teams. He totaled eight catches for 255 yards and four touchdowns against Nevada and Oregon in 2018.
Barnum said there are scouts on a near daily basis at practice. Some of them have already made a return trip, he added.
The feedback Barnum has gotten is that NFL teams see Taumoepeau as an H-back, a hybrid fullback/receiver, who motions in the backfield and is a route runner.
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The biggest improvement Barnum has seen Taumoepeau make this year is being crisper with running routes. That increases the value of Taumoepeau’s natural running ability with the ball in his hands, when he hearkens back to his running back mentality.
With the increased attention comes potential distractions. Barnum has tried to curb that by having conversations with Taumoepeau about how to handle the added pressure.
“Chuck is walking humility,” Barnum said. “He’s not talking about himself. He’s not that guy at all. I think sometimes it actually embarrasses him how much attention he gets.”
Taumoepeau is grateful to have an outgoing, eccentric coach like Barnum who keeps things loose. He feels he gels well with Barnum and is able to be himself.
“Definitely having his personality has helped me because I’m a kind of boring guy outside of football,” Taumoepeau said. “Once I’m on the field, I’m always goofing around and having fun because that’s how I approach the game. So, having coach Barnum with that type of personality has helped my game as well.”
Taumoepeau has accrued 1,768 receiving yards and 10 touchdowns in 38 career games. He’s averaged 16.7 yards per catch across 106 receptions.
Montana coach Bobby Hauck knows the Griz will have their hands full trying to slow down Taumoepeau, part of the No. 4 scoring offense in the Big Sky (35.4 points per game).
“There’s Touchdown Charlie, who’s the best tight end I’ve seen in a while,” Hauck said. “Certainly the best one we’ve seen this year to date.”
As for why: “He’s got great playmaking ability. He’s big and he’s fast,” Hauck said. “That’s what the great tight ends look like is what Charlie looks like.”
Taumoepeau is excited to get a final chance to face Montana, one of the first teams he saw as a kid attending games at Eastern Washington. He missed the upset victory last year in Missoula with a high ankle sprain.
This year, Taumoepeau sat out two non-conference games with hamstring tightness as a precaution to make sure he’d be ready for league play. He’s coming off his best outing of the year, catching five passes for 127 yards.
As the NFL beckons, Taumoepeau is soaking in his final college season. The Vikings are 5-4 after winning three, zero and four games in 2016, 2017 and 2018, and there’s no place he’d rather be than the football field.
“I’m kind of just a boring guy,” Taumoepeau conceded again. “I love the game of football. Once the cleats hit the turf, I kind of just turn into a 12-year-old. I love football.”