Freshman tight end Conrad poised to be playmaker

By Josh Ellis

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The UK football program hasn’t had a reliable pass-catching tight end since Jacob Tamme put on the blue and white from 2004-07.

In fact, tight ends for UK have combined for only 148 catches for 1,563 yards and nine touchdowns in the seven seasons since Tamme graduated.

Those days seem to be numbered, however, as the Cats welcomed early enrollee and four-star prospect C.J. Conrad into the program in January.

The 6-foot-5, 245-pound freshman caught the eyes of head coach Mark Stoops and the rest of the coaching staff during spring practice, making Tamme-esque plays with his savvy route-running and ability to catch the football.

The departure of tight ends Steven Borden and Ronnie Shields from last year’s team meant that Conrad would have a chance to start as a freshman. Despite having hernia surgery in the spring, the depth chart for the first game against Louisiana Lafayette revealed that Conrad would be the starting tight end for the Cats.

He becomes the first tight end to start as a true freshman since Jordan Aumiller did so in 2010.

The chance to play early was inticing for the Lagrange, Ohio native.

“The fact that there’s just (Darryl Long) and (Greg Hart) – you don’t see that a lot. A lot of places you come visit, there’s a lot of tight ends in the room,” Conrad said. “I played as a freshman in high school so I’m used to never sitting. The fact that I got the opportunity to get a chance to compete and start here was very appealing.”

Conrad proved during his senior season at Keystone High School that he’s a versatile tight end who can bring balance to the position. He reeled in 55 receptions for 752 yards and 10 receiving touchdowns, along with one rushing touchdown and one punt return for a TD.

Offensive coordinator Shannon Dawson has been impressed with Conrad’s athletic ability.

“If we can throw it down the field to him every time, I will,” Dawson said. “If you have a guy who’s athletic enough to create space and routes – great. I think we definitely have those guys.”

Dawson understands that though he may have a talented freshman like Conrad, the depth at tight end isn’t ideal.Hart transferred in from Nebraska but will have to sit out the 2015 season, leaving Long as the only other eligible tight end availabe on UK’s roster. Dawson said UK would have multiple formations and personnel this season, with and without the tight ends.

The positive for the true freshman is that he believes his impact on the field and ability to be a two-dimensional tight end will not only set up him, but the entire UK offense up for success.

“I can make plays up field and just be that tight end that they haven’t had in a while,” Conrad said. “You can run with me, you can pass with me. You have a guy that can block and make plays – the defense will have to second-guess what play we’re going to run.”