Conrad put his first love of basketball in the backseat for football career


Kentucky tight end C.J. Conrad runs the ball down field during the game against Ole Miss on Saturday, November 4, 2017 in Lexington, Ky. Kentucky lost the game 37-34. Photo by Carter Gossett | Staff

For a lot of division one athletes, the sport they play to represent their school is the sport they love the most, their first love, their truly compatible sport. For UK football tight end CJ Conrad, his first love wasn’t being in an end zone. It was under a basketball hoop.

“At first I thought that was going to be my route,” Conrad said. “Until my sophomore year of high school, basketball was the sport. I was better at it, my parents both played it, so… that’s kind of what we were thinking.”

In high school, Conrad was a capable basketball player. His final year, when he could only play half the season (10 games), he averaged 12 points, 12 rebounds, three steals and a block per game, according to MaxPreps.

“I was more of a 14-rebound, 12-point game kind of guy,” Conrad said. “I wasn’t the best shooter in high school, so I would get the rebound and get it out to our shooters.”

Conrad’s flip between sports came during his sophomore year at Keystone High School. He had put on a lot of weight that year and said he “dedicated” himself to the weight room. That season, he caught 59 passes for 924 yards and 14 touchdowns in just 10 football games. On defense, he averaged 8.7 tackles a game as a defensive end/free safety, as well as picking off three passes.

“I had some division one coaches come and talk to me [after my sophomore season],” Conrad said. “And none on the other end for basketball, so I was like ‘OK, I really am starting to enjoy football.'”

After that season, Conrad said, he never looked back. He finished his high school football career with more than 2,000 receiving yards, 35 total touchdowns and 170 tackles. He got offers from division one schools and knew he had made the right decision for his future, to play the sport at a high level.

Conrad did, however, continue to play high school basketball. He played it as long as he could, until his early enrollment at UK cut his senior season in half.

“[Leaving high school basketball early] was tough, because we were like 10-1 and we were pretty good,” Conrad said. “It sucked to leave.”

Conrad never received a division one offer to play basketball.

Now, he’s a seasoned veteran on a Cats roster with bouncy, “freaky big” athletes (as head coach Mark Stoops called them) and is looking to close out his football career at UK with his third straight winning season.

This football thing turned out okay.