PFF’s social media accounts play an important role in the NFL media landscape: They provide the latest football news, Share unique stats and data and of course get insightful feedback such as: “Three fire emojis” and “Did you even read the article?”
For Houston Cougars wide receiver Nathaniel “Tank” Dell, the accounts served as additional motivation.
— Flash1x⚡️ (@Tankdell4) March 26, 2022
“I’m all about love,” Dell laughed during an exclusive interview with PFF. “I wasn’t mad about it, it was just motivation for me. Whatever I did last year, I need to step it up a little bit as if I hadn’t done enough. Obviously I didn’t do enough last year. You know, to me it was all jokes and fun. But they definitely motivated me.”
It’s hard to believe that recording 1,329 receiving yards, 90 receptions and 12 touchdowns in 2021 wasn’t enough. From the ghosts on the recruiting lane to the ghosts of defenders in cover, put the tape on and it’s easy to be a fan of the 5-foot-10, 155-pound receiver called “Tank” — who’s the AAC led category at almost every reception.
Dell’s Football’s journey began in Daytona Beach, Florida, a place he would tell you prepared him for the best the game had to offer.
“I’m actually trying to tell them down here that Florida football is a lot better than Texas football,” Dell said.
As you’d expect from a player who weighs 155 pounds in a college football program, Dell wasn’t heavily recruited as a high schooler, likely due to his height. But during his senior prom season, he made it to a few recruiting camps and stood out. He recalls going to a 7-on-7 camp specifically at FIU and receiving a full scholarship offer a few days later as he headed into his senior season.
“That was my first offer,” Dell said. “I cried when I got this offer. I cried because I went through a lot.”
As his senior season of high school football progressed, communications between him and the FIU broke down — and not because of a lack of effort on his part. Eventually he picked up the hint that they had dropped the offer. This put a young Dell in a difficult position: he wanted to continue playing football, but without going to school. He and high school teammate Brian Jenkins eventually went to Alabama A&M, an HBCU program where his friend’s father was a running backs coach.
But Dell told himself it wouldn’t last long.
“When I got there, I said to myself that I will go to JUCO after this semester,” Dell said. “I know I can grow taller.”
Despite getting injured and unable to play much at Alabama A&M, Dell actually chose the JUCO route after that 2018 season. He ended up at Independence Community College — the one he’s known for the Netflix show Last Chance U. His former high school quarterback was there, and Dell felt a reunion might play in his favor.
But Dell still dreamed of playing college football in his home state of Florida. So when USF opened a summer camp for JUCO players, he was definitely there. Dell still had an upcoming season at ICC, but USF liked what they saw and stayed in touch with Dell.
His first game couldn’t have gone better. Dell had six catches for 148 yards and three touchdowns in ICC’s season opener, and calls and texts from USF continued. Dell knew he wanted to be back in Florida, but he didn’t want to sign for USF too early given how well he played in the season opener. But as the year went by and USF was the strongest offer he had, he decided this was the place for him. So he told them he wanted to sign up, but he wanted to do so later in the season on his birthday to make it special.
Two weeks before his birthday, a case of déjà vu: USF didn’t answer him, just like with FIU. The trail had gone cold.
“God puts you in certain positions for a reason,” Dell said. “Being at ICC, the experience there has toughened me. And it was a great place for me to excel where I wanted to be [as a player]. For me it was a great fit. That was one of the best moves I’ve made in my life so far, man.”
After that season at ICC, Dell got a chance to play for Dana Holgorsen in Houston. A chance he took.
“I absolutely love Coach Home,” Dell said. “He’s so much fun to play with because it’s like he believes in his boys. He is listening. He’s not one of those coaches where you come here and he wants to lead the show every time. You can go to him and tell him what is open and what you think; You can go to him and tell him, ‘This is what I see in the field.’”
Whatever Dell saw in Holgorsen’s offense worked. In his freshman season in 2020, he rushed for 428 yards in 29 catches with three touchdowns. But that was in just eight games during an abbreviated season. The following year put him on the map.
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Dell’s route running is the calling card of his game. His footwork is fast, and he consistently relinquishes his slot and wing bets early and often. Where its size might seem like a disadvantage to some, it turns its speed and agility into an advantage. That’s why his goals for the upcoming season are sky high.
“I was aiming for 1,800 yards and 15 total touchdowns,” Dell said. “I plan to be a punt returner this year. So I want to be one of the top punt returners in college football. I also want to be a team captain because I wasn’t a team captain last year. But the most important goal is a conference championship.”