Cincinnati tight end Travis Kelce had a breakout season, leading the Bearcats with 32 catches for 599 yards and seven touchdowns en route to Big East first-team honors.
Former coach Butch Jones has said no player on the team showed more growth than Kelce this year. Indeed, Kelce has seen his name shoot up draft boards as he prepares to play his final game for Cincinnati, against Duke in the Belk Bowl on Thursday. I had a chance to catch up with Kelce and ask him about his performance this season and what is up next for him after the bowl.
Here is a little of what he had to say.
What went into your breakthrough performance this year?
TK: First of all, my dedication to trying to get to the next level, the fact that I knew I wasn’t getting very much publicity, I hadn’t done anything that I had dreamt of or thought I was going to be able to do in college football. I came in as a quarterback, but once I switched to tight end, I thought I was going to blow up the charts right away and that didn’t happen. It was definitely the pressure of having one more year to go and just put that extra dedication in. I made a lot of sacrifices off the field to get in the weight room more, to get more focused on the year and a lot of things have paid off for me.
Why do you think that you were not as successful as you wanted once you made the switch?
TK: First things first, I had a couple surgeries. I’m not going to be the one to say that’s the reason I didn’t do anything but the surgeries held me back from getting in the weight room and being able to be a blocker. That’s the first thing you’ve got to do as a tight end. Being locked in 24/7 and buying in to what the coaches were saying -- once I did that, once I understood how everything worked related to football, it clicked for me. As the year progressed, everything slowed down for me and I got better. This is only my second year playing tight end, so to come out and have a year like this, I really think it was an accomplishment.
Did you set out to be the first-team Big East tight end?
TK: Definitely that was one of the goals. I had a couple other higher-end goals, but definitely that goal was reachable and I knew with the offense we have and the accountability the coaches were going to put on me, it was something I had to take as a senior. That accolade, to be the best at your position in your conference, you want that on your résumé. That was definitely one of the goals I had coming into the season.
What types of extra work did you do to improve yourself?
TK: First off, the weight room helped me out tremendously. I started getting to eating right, so that my body would be able to withstand lifting twice a day and still on top of that being able to get conditioning in. It definitely started with eating right, getting the right supplements and nutrition into your body and hitting the weight room as much as possible without actually killing your body.
How much did your brother, Eagles center Jason Kelce, help you out?
TK: I couldn’t have a better resource than my brother. He’s one of the smartest guys you’ll have a conversation with. He knows so much about so many different things. For him to be there for me every step of the way, he helped me out with the nutrition, he helped me out with the lifts, he helped me out with everything football-wise, knowledge-wise. For him to already go through this whole process and be able to get to the NFL and start for a whole season his rookie year, that was huge. I knew I was going to be able to take advantage of that.
What have you heard from people in terms of your draft prospects?
TK: I haven’t necessarily talked to scouts. All I can do is look at the scouting websites. I’ve definitely risen up the board all the way up to No. 3 among the senior tight end class, which I think is a down statement. That just tells you how confident I am. It’s a process and I think hopefully being able to get into the Senior Bowl and going to the combine will really boost my stock up even more. It’s something you just have to focus on getting better every single day and that’s all I can do at this point.
What do you want to work on to help your draft stock?
TK: First things first, my upper body strength and my lower body strength. It would be good to get into the weight room to show them I can be that dominating blocker. The footwork on the film hasn’t been what I want it to be, but that just comes with developing and getting reps and stuff like that. I have made huge strides, but I think running the 40 and just being more consistent on the techniques of route running. Just being an all-around tight end to show them I can be a force no matter where I go.