Taumoepeau’s a prospect for NFL draft

Portland State tight end Charlie Taumoepeau (center) has been steadily rising on NFL draft boards.

Come April, Portland State’s Charlie Taumoepeau might hear his name booming out of the NFL draft loudspeakers in Vegas.

Come Saturday, if Idaho’s secondary can’t get a handle on him, he could hear his name plenty on the Hillsboro Stadium loudspeakers.

Taumoepeau arguably is the best tight end in the Football Championship Subdivision. The 6-foot-3, 245-pounder, who’s much faster than his dimensions hint, logged 580 yards and five touchdowns — and a slew of inescapable blocks — in nine 2018 games en route to three All-America nods.

But he’s just one of five pass-catchers to have accumulated more than 200 yards apiece so far for the Vikings (3-3, 1-1 Big Sky), who’ll stage a conference tilt with Idaho (2-4, 0-2) at 2 p.m. Saturday (Pluto TV 532).

“Everything’s balancing out, really,” Taumoepeau said.

As Taumoepeau’s evolved into a pro prospect, and as his name has crept up mock-draft boards, the PSU offense has matured with him, and taken shape as one exhibiting a wealth of sound skill players and a quarterback as efficient as any in the Big Sky.

Much of that is thanks to the star senior from Federal Way, Wash., a steal for the Viks, who’d placed his only Division I offer on the table a few months after his senior year. Taumoepeau’s retained a positive mindset, despite Portland State’s development process throughout his first three seasons, during which his team went 7-26.

“I knew my role, knew I had to be a playmaker for the team (in 2017 and 2018),” he said. “This year, it’s not really just about the play and what I do, but to continue being positive. Sometimes after a bad play or a bad week of practice, guys will hang their heads. I like to stay positive, keep my teammates in a good mindset and be that kind of leader for them.”

He can share the on-field load a bit more now. It’s partially why Taumoepeau’s numbers have taken a slight dip. He registered 673 yards on 45 catches as a sophomore in 2017 — the most receptions by a tight end in 30 years at Portland State. This season, he has 222 yards and a score.

But still, Taumoepeau was the first topic of conversation at UI coach Paul Petrino’s news conference Tuesday.

He’s also the exact kind of under-the-radar local talent the Vandals are striving to find.

Taumoepeau was born in the Polynesian archipelago of Tonga. His parents packed up and moved in with family in Sacramento before taking up a residence in Washington before he turned 10.

After a prep career as a receiver — because Federal Way’s offense doesn’t include tight ends — the Vikings staff were the only ones committed to him, and they committed to him at tight end, an auspicious decision. However, they’ve been known to split him out wide, where his hulking size and sneaky speed fashion nightmares for cornerbacks.

“I took it and ran with it,” he said. “Portland State was really my only school for (a) scholarship. Had a couple others playing around me, but no one really pulled the trigger. I still remember (coach Bruce) Barnum coming over and offering me. It was great; I’ll remember that day for the rest of my life.”

Four years later, teammates can’t help but address his NFL talent. Draftscout.com predicts he’ll line up as an H-back at the next level, and the site has him as a top-10 draft prospect at that position.

“They joke around all the time: ‘Charlie’s going to the league, blah, blah,’” he said, laughing.

It’s a subject that’s been broached more and more since the end of last season. He’s got sights on the NFL, but for now “I kinda set that aside and worry about what’s in front of me.”

“I barely even got a scholarship,” said Taumoepeau, a back-to-back all-league player. “I’ve definitely always had this picture in my head; (the NFL) has always been a dream. But to be honest, I never thought I’d be in this position.”

BARNUM’S BACKGROUND — Portland State’s fifth-year coach began his time with the Vikings as an offensive coordinator in 2010. From 2001-06, he held the same post at Idaho State. But having been a linebacker for Eastern Washington in the 1980s, his defensive roots run deep.

“He likes to joke around with the defense, because I’m not sure a lot of them know how much of a defensive guy he was growing up,” Taumoepeau said of his coach, who’d been ISU’s defensive coordinator in 2000, when he coached former NFL All-Pro defensive end Jared Allen (then a freshman).

Barnum, now seen as an offensive-minded coach, prides his teams on a “50-50,” rushing/passing approach.

THE BURGEONING OF ALEXANDER — Portland State quarterback Davis Alexander, who UI effectively bottled up last season in a 20-7 win, has become one of the league’s most dangerous weapons. He’s thrown for almost 1,400 yards on a 62-percent completion rate, and run for another 250. The 5-11, 195-pound junior’s 12 touchdowns to three picks have made him the Big Sky’s second-most efficient quarterback (153.4). Last season, he split reps with run-first quarterback Jalani Eason.

“He’s settled into the position now,” Taumoepeau said. “He’s a very smart kid and one of the most fierce competitors I’ve been around. So just to see him finally take that role that I thought he could’ve taken over a couple of years ago, I’m very happy.”

Clark may be reached at cclark@lmtribune.com, on Twitter @ClarkTrib or by phone at (208) 848-2260.

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