CINCINNATI (FOX19) - Travis Kelce was a solid player for the Cincinnati Bearcats.
Fast-forward to today, and he’s an NFL superstar, with pop-culture celebrity in spades and on-the-field production to match.
Did his former teammates and coaches see it coming? They say they did.
A high-school quarterback from the Cleveland area, Kelce moved to tight end when he enrolled at UC.
“I take credit sometimes,” former UC teammate and Bearcats quarterback Tony Pike joked. “If he would’ve beat me out for quarterback, maybe it’s Travis Kelce the quarterback in the NFL. I like to remind him of that.”
Kelce had a break-out senior season with the Bearcats, catching eight touchdowns in his final college season, including an 83-yard game-winning touchdown in UC’s Belk Bowl victory over Duke in his final college game.
“I think that was the ‘wow’ moment,” Pike said. “You knew he was going to be special.”
Drafted by the Kansas City Chiefs in the third round of the 2013 draft, Kelce is a two-time All-Pro, five-time Pro Bowl selection and recently became the first tight end in NFL history with four 1,000 yard seasons.
“I truly believe he’s the only Division I player that I’ve been around that could’ve probably started in three different major sports,” Kelce’s former position coach at UC and current Moeller head coach Mark Elder said. “I wouldn’t have been shocked if he went out for the basketball team at Cincinnati and been a starter on the baseball team. He’s just a really gifted guy.”
Kelce has become an NFL star because of his production and also his big personality. He starred in his own reality show, Catching Kelce, and is now featured in multiple commercials.
“Obviously, he has the outgoing and fun personality, but he’s a genuine guy,” former UC teammate and friend Craig Carey said. “He and his brother (NFL player and former UC Bearcat Jason Kelce) would give you the shirt off his back. I think he’s just being himself.”
Kelce invited Carey and his wife, Jenny, to Arrowhead Stadium for the AFC Championship game. The Careys watched the game from Kelce’s suite at the game and witnessed his viral moment during the Chiefs’ trophy presentation when he grabbed the microphone and shouted Beastie Boys lyrics to the crowd.
“I don’t know if people know this or not, but they play that song throughout games at Arrowhead, so that’s why he said that, you know, ‘Seven years in waiting, you’ve got to fight for your right to party,’" Carey explained. "So, it was connecting with the fans once again with his personality.”
Former teammates and coaches say Kelce played with the same personality at UC.
“What you see is what you get,” Elder added. “That’s Travis. That’s not him putting on a show.”
“He sees football still as the game you play as a little kid,” Pike said. “It’s not, ‘The job, it’s miserable, and the hours.’ He loves it. And, you see that when he plays and celebrates.”
Kelce’s brother, Jason, and former Bearcats’ tight end Brent Celek both won the Super Bowl in 2018 when the Eagles beat the Patriots.
Kelce will be playing in his first-ever Super Bowl against the San Francisco 49ers.
“It’s kind of surreal,” Carey said. “You kind of take for granted you’re friends with someone and then you go into that (AFC Championship) atmosphere and it was surreal. The fact that I know someone playing in (the Super Bowl) is pretty cool.”
Asked about Kelce’s impact on UC football, Pike says it reinforces what you can accomplish in a Bearcats uniform.
“You can come to Cincinnati and still be a first-round pick, you can be an MVP in the league,” he explained. “You can be a Super Bowl winner. You can do all of that stuff, just as like of these power five schools. You can do it here.”