HUNTINGTON — Last season, it wasn’t a question as to whether Marshall senior tight end Xavier Gaines was going to be in the lineup.
Instead, the question became where was he going to be in the lineup.
One of Conference USA’s most dynamic threats and mismatches, Gaines lined up at several different positions within the offensive scheme of coordinator Tim Cramsey.
On Thursday, Gaines received recognition for that unique skill set as he was named to the Paul Hornung Award Watch List, which is given to the most versatile player in college football.
Gaines saw action at five different spots on the field last season, lining up at quarterback, running back, H-Back, tight end and in the slot and outside at receiver, depending on the matchups presented by the defense.
In a year where Marshall was saddled with injuries to its receiver position that forced Cramsey to get creative — even going to three tight end sets — Gaines was a welcomed weapon to keep a defense off-balance.
Gaines finished 2019 with 27 catches for 306 yards and three touchdowns while rushing 26 times for 187 yards and two scores as well.
He ended the year as one of two players in Conference USA with 150 or more rushing yards and 300 or more receiving yards.
With two-year starting quarterback Isaiah Green in the NCAA’s transfer portal, many wondered if Gaines — originally recruited as a quarterback out of Florida — would end up behind center more in 2020.
Such a scenario could be reminiscent of what Kentucky did with Lynn Bowden last season after injuries at the quarterback position.
For now, Cramsey expects Gaines to line up in more of a traditional tight end look this season, which makes him one of the league’s top mismatches at tight end due to his speed against linebackers and ability to overpower secondary personnel.
While having the football in his hands is what he’s most comfortable with, Cramsey spoke of his development as a blocker on the edge, which has helped the Herd attack.
Gaines now will see additional repetitions as a forceful tight end with the graduation of former bruiser Armani Levias, who also led the team in receiving yards last season.
Gaines was second behind Levias in both receptions and yards and tied for second with Levias in receiving touchdowns.