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Tank Dell’s time at UH has set him up for NFL success

Tank Dell’s resilience and work ethic is what made him a star at UH. Now, as a Houston Texan, those experiences will propel him even further. | Sean Thomas/The Cougar

The route to the NFL is hard for everyone who tries. But for former University of Houston star Nathaniel ‘Tank’ Dell, it took a long and winding route full of determination to get himself to where he feels he belongs.

As a senior from Mainland High School, the offers that Dell received just did not work out. 

Overlooked because of his smaller stature — standing at five feet, 10 inches and weighing under 170 lbs. — Dell decided to go to Alabama A&M for a season, where he had 12 catches for 364 yards and 3 touchdowns, including a 204-yard performance against Alabama State. The next year, Dell took a chance by enrolling at Kansas Junior College to prove himself further. 

Joining the Pirates in Independence is where Dell made waves, gathering 52 receptions for 766 yards and 8 touchdowns. 

Dell then signed with Houston as a mid-year junior transfer in 2020, and the rest is history. 

In 2021, Dell became a star. As one of the focal points of the offense, he had his first 1000-yard season with 90 catches and 12 touchdowns. 

The next year, Dell broke out as one of the top receivers in college football, leading the NCAA in receiving with 1398 yards and 17 touchdowns on 109 catches. 

Those special two seasons earned Dell an invitation to the NFL Combine, and was eventually picked 69th overall by the Houston Texans, the first UH player ever to be drafted by the team 

“It was a blessing being at the University of Houston,” Dell said. “It taught me a lot. I came there and connected well. I just love the city of Houston, so everything played a part in me just being there.”

Dell quickly gave lots of credit to everyone who had been there along the way in his journey. 

“The coaching staff, my teammates there, my brothers — they were fantastic,” Dell said. “They did a fantastic job in bringing me in in 2020 and getting me where I am today.”

Head coach Dana Holgorsen had nothing but great words to say about his former star wide receiver. Holgorsen was at Texans’ training camp where he saw Dell in action with his professional team. 

“It’s a good vibe out there right now,” Holgorsen said. “They’re asking me about Tank, and I’m like he’s as good as advertised and he’s a better kid. He practiced every single day, he was the same guy every single day.”

One of the changes at the NFL level is new coaches and being able to work with them. Dell was someone that the Houston Cougars coaching staff greatly enjoyed working with. Wide Receivers Coach Daikiel Shorts Jr. was close to Dell during his time in the third ward. 

“Tank’s super coachable. He always takes the message, not the tone. He always writes his goals down in meetings, he’s very attentive in the meetings. He’s gonna be very successful,” Shorts said. “He’s just got to continue to learn the game, learn a new offense and he’ll be able to adapt and adjust.”

Impact on the program

Dell was admired around the program for making an impact with his fellow teammates, specifically sophomore wide receiver Matthew Golden. As a true freshman last year, Golden had a productive campaign, establishing himself as Dell’s heir apparent, and Dell was right there to help him along.

“Having him as a big brother and just watching his steps just helped me be more successful on the field,” Golden said. “They’re most definitely getting the dog out of Tank Dell. A dude that’s gonna come in and work day in and day out.”

Dell credits the the ideals he learned throughout his long journey to the NFL that will guide him through the next level.

“Just staying humble, staying confident,” Dell said. “And always being ready when your number is called.”

The third-round pick in the 2023 NFL Draft has a unique personality that makes him a special teammate as well. The Texans’ culture will only benefit from having Dell on the team. 

“He has a certain type of swag and charisma about him that people gravitate towards him,” Shorts said. “I think they’re just getting a good human being.”

New Chapter with the Houston Texans

Dell has already made a mark in his short time with the Texans. He impressed during training camp and was the star of the first preseason game against the Patriots, snagging an incredible tip-drill touchdown during a five-catch, 65-yard performance. 

Shorts was not able to catch Dell’s first preseason game, but it still was a special moment for him. 

“Coming off the field, everybody was talking about his catch and my phone was blowing up. Hell of a catch,” Shorts said. “I texted him. I said, ‘Dang, you really popped off with a bang.’”

The 23-year-old receiver had many positive remarks about his new team and seems to fitting in perfectly. 

“My new teammates are great, all the coaching staff, Coach DeMeco (Ryans), my receiver coach, everybody’s just great,” Dell said. “It’s like a family there, we’re trying to build a family. We focus on winning, that’s the number one goal.”

Dell has already formed a strong relationship with his new quarterback, C.J. Stroud, a fellow rookie and second overall pick in the 2023 draft from Ohio State. It already has a nickname: the ‘713 connection,’ as Stroud wears No. 7 and Dell No. 13. However, Dell has since changed his jersey number to three.

“We connected at the combine off the field just walking around and I saw him. We chopped it up for a little bit,” Dell said. “ The connection has just been there and after that. Me and C.J. became very tight so that’s my guy.”

Dell’s strength as a wideout has always been very clear. His ability to find soft spots in the defense despite his small stature is what made him one of the best receivers in the nation, and it is what he will rely on at the next level.

“His route running ability and just him knowing how to get open, press coverage or whatever, just finding that open window on the defense,” Golden said. “Overall, I feel like Tank is going to play a big role for the Texans.”

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