UK Football

A lifetime in the continuously competitive Conrad clan helps drive Kentucky tight end

Every member of the Conrad family, from left, Mike, Austin, Mackenzie, C.J. and Lois, are or were college athletes. It makes for some interesting times.
Every member of the Conrad family, from left, Mike, Austin, Mackenzie, C.J. and Lois, are or were college athletes. It makes for some interesting times.

There’s a place in the basement of the Conrad house where the drywall has been replaced countless times.

Mike Conrad doesn’t know exactly how those holes were made around the mini basketball goal there, but he has a pretty good idea.

“Somebody would score and the other didn’t take that very well,” said Mike, father to brothers C.J. and Austin Conrad, just 13 months apart. “They’d jam the other into the wall and then make up an excuse to Lois and I that something else happened.”

That was life growing up in the consistently competitive Conrad household where both parents Mike and Lois were college basketball players at Division II Tiffin University in Ohio, where Lois graduated as the all-time leading scorer there.

Ahead of the Conrad brothers, is sister Mackenzie, who played college softball at Coastal Carolina. In high school, she won a state championship and was Gatorade Player of the Year.

“It was pretty brutal growing up,” laughed C.J. Conrad, Kentucky’s starting tight end and leading receiver so far with five catches for 125 yards and two touchdowns in two games. “Everybody wanted to win. Everything was a competition.”

It was especially competitive between C.J. and his brother, who is a redshirt freshman defensive end at Ohio University.

“We’d have sit-up competitions,” C.J. recalled. “Who can do the most sit-ups? It was to wear us out. I think that’s what my mom’s strategy was. Who can take the trash cans out fastest? It was fun.”

In the basement while watching television, C.J. and Austin would line up along the wall and crash into piles of pillows across the room while trying to get to a football their dad had thrown.

“They’d run crossing patterns, going back and forth trying to guard each other to the point where their shirts are torn, they’re sweating from top to bottom and just having the time of their lives,” Mike Conrad said laughing.

There was basketball in the driveway and swimming races in the pool.

“C.J. was like Michael Phelps,” Austin said. “He won every time.”

And forgive C.J., who has 3 inches on his baby brother but is now 5 pounds lighter, for looking back over his shoulder while Southern Mississippi defenders were chasing him two weeks ago.

It likely was part muscle memory from years of having races with his younger brother.

On that play, a 59-yarder where Conrad was tripped up just before hitting the end zone, Kentucky’s sports scientists clocked the tight end at a whopping 21.7 miles per hour.

But Austin can claim he’s faster, at least in this last go around between the brothers.

“They’d have 40-yard dashes against each other because they wanted to see who was faster,” Mike Conrad said of the most recent race over the July 4 holiday break. “It hasn’t stopped.”

This summer Austin tired of hearing about how fast C.J. had gotten during the offseason.

“He was getting a little mouthy with me about my speed and I had to put him in his place,” Austin said. “It was really close, only by a step, but I beat him.”

That step meant a lot of head shaking for C.J.

“He beat me by a step and I was very upset,” he said.

The competition wasn’t limited to athletic feats.

The Conrads pretty much compete at everything.

“We’d do who could eat more was one,” Austin laughed.

It was a way of life. It still is a way of life.

“Everything in our house for all the years the kids were growing up was all about competition at one thing or another,” Mike Conrad said. “It was never to the point where it was a bad situation, it was just kind of like, that’s what we did.”

That competitive energy, that drive to be best at everything — whether it’s catching passes or blocking for a big run — is part of what drew Kentucky to Conrad when it recruited the tight end out of Keystone High School.

“C.J. is a very, very good football player,” Coach Mark Stoops said. “We’re trying to get him the ball more and more. He does a lot of good things for us that go unnoticed like his run blocking. He’s getting better every day. I love C.J. I love his attitude.”

Tight ends coach Vince Marrow loved seeing a house full of athletes when he started recruiting Conrad.

He recalled Conrad conversations about being on a family golf trip that devolved into blocking drills on the green.

“They’ve a very competitive family,” Marrow said, with emphasis on the very. “I imagine them like going to a wedding and Austin and C.J. getting on their knees and tackling each other. They do stuff like that. They do.”

It made all of the Conrad kids better.

“We always competed to be better than the other,” the youngest Conrad said. “We were always trying to one-up each other.”

And living in Mackenzie’s shadow in high school helped C.J. realize how much effort he had to put in to be great.

“Seeing my sister and all the success she had and how hard she worked made me want to work harder,” he said.

While Mike Conrad facilitated much of the competition, including timing the boys while they would run to fetch things around the house, their mom played a huge part, too.

The UK tight end said he got his leadership skills from his dad, but “my toughness comes from my mom.”

A driven mom is a big deal to Marrow when he recruits.

“I look for that: how competitive the mom was,” UK’s tight end coach said. “When you get a competitive mom, that speaks volumes for a kid. (Lois) is a very competitive person. I bet he could never go whine to her hurt. She’d tell him to go on back out there.”

It was a way of life in the Conrad family.

C.J. said: “My dad and my mom established that we should compete at a high level in everything we do.”

And sometimes that competitiveness means a wall in the basement pays the ultimate price.

Kentucky LB Jones to miss South Carolina game

Kentucky will be without one of its top playmakers at South Carolina on Saturday.

Coach Mark Stoops ruled weakside linebacker Jordan Jones, who led the Cats in tackles last season with 109, as out for the week while coming back from a shoulder injury.

“He is out this week and we’ll see. I’ll update you. I’m not withholding on you,” Stoops told the media after Thursday’s practice.

He said some additional testing on Jones’ left shoulder revealed the injury, which ruled him out for the game with the Gamecocks. Stoops wouldn’t discuss specifics of Jones’ injury, only saying it’s a shoulder injury.

“He will be week-to-week, it may be a stretch to play next week quite honestly,” Stoops said of Jones who is third on the team this season with 13 tackles. “He’ll play when the doctors tell him he can play. … They’ve told me it’s week-to-week.”

Starting in Jones’ place will be Eli Brown,

“Eli has played well,” Stoops said. “I was really looking forward to seeing him get more reps this past Saturday, but when he made that foolish penalty, it kind of aggravated us. …

“He’s been playing good. He’s really had a solid camp, so I’m looking forward to seeing him play. I’m sure he’ll be excited and he’s going to play a bunch of snaps and he’ll have to play well for us.”

Kentucky will move Jamar “Boogie” Watson to the backup weakside linebacker.

“We have a lot of confidence in (him),” Stoops said. “He’s a guy who can play multiple positions. We’ve been working on him learning linebacker and defensive end in some predictable pass and third-down packages. … He can do many things.”

Jennifer Smith: 859-231-3241, @jenheraldleader