LAGRANGE — C.J. Conrad wanted his 18th birthday to be a memorable one.
So he decided to announce to everyone on his special day that Kentucky will be where he has agreed to continue his football career after graduating from Keystone in 2015.
“I knew where I was going about a week ago, but I thought, ‘How about I wait until my birthday to announce it?’” Conrad said. “I’m excited. I’m 100 percent committed and I’m excited to be a Wildcat.
“I went to Kentucky for two visits and both times I went there it felt like home. I’m excited to get it over before my senior year so I can focus on what’s important and that’s making it to the playoffs and winning our conference championship.”
The 6-foot-5, 230-pound junior is the sixth-ranked tight end nationally and the eighth-ranked player in Ohio by Rivals.
His decision came down to Indiana and Kentucky out of more than 22 schools that recruited him. Before settling on his top two choices, Conrad sorted through offers from Arkansas, Louisville, Virginia Tech, Ole Miss and Duke, to name a few.
“It was a little stressful, but I enjoyed it a lot,” Conrad said of the recruiting process. “I had a great time with it. I appreciate all the schools that recruited me. It was a good time. It was a good experience for all my teammates because they’re coming out scouting me, but all the other kids can get looks as well. It reflects well for our program in general.”
Conrad strongly considered playing in the Big Ten Conference, but the chance to play in the Southeastern Conference won out.
“I grew up always watching Big Ten football, being an Ohio State fan, but the SEC is the best conference in America and it just feels right,” Conrad said. “I’m excited to be a part of it. It’s going to be awesome.”
Conrad says he has a good chance to play as a freshman and that was another reason he chose Kentucky.
“I fit really well in their offense,” Conrad said. “When I went down there, they showed me film and what I’d do in their offense and stuff like that. The opportunity I have to play early in the SEC doesn’t get much better than that.”
Conrad made a name for himself on the recruiting camp circuit, showing his skills against some of the top players in the nation. He’s also aware that he needs a lot more work.
“I definitely need to develop more as an all-around tight end,” Conrad said. “I think I’m a pretty good receiver, but if I want to be as successful as I am in high school in college, I need to become an all-around tight end.”
Conrad helped turn the Keystone program around from a winless season in 2011 to a 7-3 season in 2013. Last season, he had 579 receiving yards and seven touchdowns.
“C.J. is a great kid, I’ve been privileged to watch him play from the time he was in the third grade,” Keystone coach Rob Clarico said. “Just to see the maturation and development of him both as a player and as a person has been a real joy for me. This is really a victory for the whole program. All the kids and the coaches take a lot of pride in what C.J.’s been able to accomplish.”
Clarico is excited about getting to coach Conrad another season and wants to help him get ready for the next level.
“I think he needs to continue getting bigger and stronger,” Clarico said. “It’s going to be a big step up as to the opponents that he’s going to see playing in the SEC, as opposed to the PAC. He’s a relentless, tireless worker in the weight room and in agility. The sky’s the limit to what his body can become.”
Contact Steve Walker at 329-7135 or firstname.lastname@example.org.