Through the first three games of UK’s 2017 football season, junior tight end C.J. Conrad is leading the Wildcats with 161 receiving yards and two touchdown catches.
Conrad, a four-star prospect coming out of high school in 2015, appears to have developed a rapport with starting quarterback Stephen Johnson, and the two have connected for UK’s only two passing touchdowns so far this fall (and they came up just short on another one in Saturday night’s victory at South Carolina).
The top-ranked tight end in the Cats’ 2018 recruiting class might be even better.
Brenden Bates — another Ohio native — is ranked by Rivals.com as the No. 10 tight end nationally and No. 241 overall prospect in the senior class.
Rivals.com Midwest analyst Josh Helmholdt has scouted both Bates and Conrad as high school players, and he noted that the website ranks Bates a tad higher at this stage in his career.
“I would honestly say that Brenden is a little bit more sudden than Conrad was,” Helmholdt told the Herald-Leader recently. “Conrad started higher in our rankings earlier in his high school career and kind of dropped — though he stayed a four-star — because he just didn’t develop that quickness, that suddenness, that ability to get to top speed quickly, like we had hoped he would.
“Brenden shows a little bit better in that area. Obviously, C.J. was a four-star and still very good, still creates separation. I think Brenden does that to a greater level than C.J. did at the same stage in their development.”
Conrad has shown flashes of open-field burst, most notably on a 59-yard play in the season opener at Southern Miss. He had three catches for 93 yards and a TD in that game.
Bates, who helped Cincinnati Moeller defeat Scott County a couple of weekends ago and caught a touchdown pass in a 55-6 rout of Lafayette on Friday night, spoke to the Herald-Leader after the Scott County game and mentioned Conrad as a player he looks up to. He specifically pointed out Conrad’s blocking ability — in addition to his pass-catching skills — and said he, too, takes pride in that aspect of the game.
“You have to be able to block and catch at Kentucky,” Bates said.
The high school senior is also under no illusion about who the man at the tight end position will be next season at Kentucky. Bates says he already has a good relationship with Conrad — the UK junior knows Bates’ older brother, Doug, another former tight end recruit, well — and Bates is looking forward to learning from Conrad as a freshman next season.
“It’s going to be awesome,” he said with a big smile. “I can’t wait to ask him questions. … I’m pretty excited.”
Brenden Bates is also looking forward to catching passes from four-star quarterback Jarren Williams, one of his fellow commitments in UK’s class of 2018.
Bates was seriously considering Kentucky but had not yet committed at the time of Williams’ original commitment last year.
“I was just like, ‘All right, let me check him out.’ Because I had no idea who he was at the time,” Bates said. “Then I was watching his film and I was like, ‘Oh my gosh! This guy’s unbelievable.’ So that was just amazing there. I’m pumped.”
Bates has continued to track Williams’ progress over the past few months and remains impressed. Those Stephen Johnson-to-C.J. Conrad pass plays that UK fans have been watching this season could very well be Williams-to-Bates in a couple of years.
“He is an absolute beast,” Bates said. “I’m just so excited for him to be my quarterback.”
Through four games this season, Williams has thrown for 1,242 yards and 10 touchdowns with just two interceptions. He also has two rushing touchdowns.
A reminder that the second episode of the NFL Network’s “Elite 11” program is scheduled to air Tuesday at 11:30 p.m. UK quarterback commitment Jarren Williams participated in that event over the summer though he was shown only in the background during the first episode of the series.
Williams was ultimately chosen as one of 12 players from the group of 24 quarterbacks to advance from the competition to The Opening Finals, so it’s likely he’ll be more prominently featured at some point in the six-episode series, which will air every Tuesday night at 10:30 p.m. through Oct. 17.
More on TV
Chaminade-Madonna (Fla.) versus American Heritage (Fla.) has been chosen as one of ESPN’s national high school games of the week, and it will be shown Friday at 7 p.m. on ESPNU.
The Chaminade-Madonna roster features four UK commitments: wide receiver Marvin Alexander, defensive lineman Davoan Hawkins, wide receiver Akeem Hayes and defensive back Keontra Smith (the Cats’ only pledge for 2019).
UK’s 2017 signing class included Chaminade-Madonna alums Josh Ali and Chris Whittaker, and the program is expected to be home to more Kentucky recruiting targets in the future.
UK’s home opener — a noon kickoff against FCS-opponent Eastern Kentucky — didn’t bring a ton of highly touted recruits to Lexington (though there were some who made the trip).
Saturday night’s game against nationally ranked Florida at Kroger Field is expected to be a major recruiting weekend, with many of the Wildcats’ 2018 commitments and some of the program’s top targets expected to be in town.
In addition to several players already pledged to UK, expected guests include 2018 targets Meechi Harris, Damien Lewis and Chris Oats, class of 2019 targets Moses Douglass and Paul Tyson, and major 2020 recruit Justin Rogers, who was a possible visitor two weeks ago and could end up as a five-star recruit.
In-state targets Jairus Brents, Tanner Bowles, Bryan Hudson, Wandale Robinson and Beau Allen are among the many others who could be at Kroger Field on Saturday.
A more detailed list of visitors is expected later in the week.
The Herald-Leader’s Next Cats page featuring the Wildcats’ top remaining targets in the class of 2018 was updated on Sunday. Be sure to check that out at this link.