UK Football

Kentucky’s tight-knit tight ends might even team up on field

C.J. Conrad caught 15 passes last season and is poised for a breakout in 2016.
C.J. Conrad caught 15 passes last season and is poised for a breakout in 2016. Herald-Leader

Not even a burrito is safe from the discourse between Kentucky’s tight ends.

Good friends and now roommates C.J. Conrad and Greg Hart compete at just about everything.

Golf. Basketball. Foot races. Sled races. Weight lifting.

Even burritos.

“We always eat Chipotle together and he always thinks his burrito is better than mine and stuff like that,” Conrad said laughing. “It’s just stupid how competitive we are.”

Sometimes the Kentucky tight ends, who are both in the running for the starting spot, are on the same team competing. They frequently go up against fullbacks Tanner Fink and Will Tom Collins on the basketball court or the golf course.

The competitions between Hart and Conrad are so epic that they’ve become an ongoing team discussion.

“It’s gotten to the point that we’ll stay after practice and we’ll run to see who wins the race, who’s faster,” Conrad said. “We’ll go after like ‘I’m faster.’ And ‘No, I’m faster.’ It’s a good competitiveness.”

Watching Hart and Conrad compete at almost everything is comedy gold, Fink said.

“Sometimes it’s almost like they’re boyfriend and girlfriend or something because they’re arguing back and forth,” he laughed.

Both Hart, a transfer from Nebraska who is eligible to play for UK this season, and Conrad, who starred as a true freshman last season in that spot, have similar builds.

Both players are listed at 6-foot-5 and 245 pounds, which makes competitions between them seem sort of natural, Hart argued.

“We’re on the same playing field,” he said. “We have the same body type. It’s good competition because we’re both tall, long and do the same things. In golf, we’re both equally as bad.”

Tight ends coach Vince Marrow just scratches his head when asked about the ongoing battles between Hart and Conrad, especially the ones off the field.

“I give them a little crap about it because when I was competing, whether it was in college or the NFL, I ain’t going to live with a guy I was competing with because I looked at him as my enemy,” Marrow said. “It seems to work for them, though.”

It also works for the players in the tight ends/fullbacks room. The never-ending competitions make every player in the room better, Marrow said.

There’s a highly competitive side to all of them, which carries over onto the practice field in a good way.

“We make each other better all the time,” Hart added. “We encourage each other a lot. Our main focus — us two and everybody in our room — is just helping this team win.”

The two tight ends just moved in together in August, so there haven’t been any hurt feelings about playing time or who has the most catches yet.

And Conrad doesn’t anticipate there will be.

“There’s going to be games where he gets some love or I get some love and some back and forth,” said Conrad, who led all Southeastern Conference freshman tight ends with 15 catches for 149 yards and a touchdown last season.

“We’ve got to be good teammates and cheer the other on, but at the end of the day we’re competing against each other,” Conrad said. “I love the guy to death, but we’re competing. That’s what it’s all about. … It’s going to be fun, but it should be interesting.”

Having two nearly identical tight ends with such similar skill sets almost demands that coaches find ways to get both of them on the field, perhaps even together, Marrow lobbied.

“We’re going to be very tight end oriented in this offense,” he said. “I just think C.J. needs Greg and Greg needs C.J.”

That thought of playing both at the same time clearly has crossed the minds of Kentucky’s new offensive coordinators.

When Eddie Gran and Darin Hinshaw first arrived from Cincinnati, Hinshaw said: “We love using tight ends.

“C.J. is really talented, and we’re going to use him,” Hinshaw said. “We’re going to move him all around, make defenses have to be thinking about what they’re doing.”

And the chance to perhaps use more than one tight end?

“The more tight ends you use, the more sets you can get in,” Hinshaw said.

Last week, Gran noted that Hart has lots of upside.

“It’s interesting: Greg can run. He can run pretty well. He’s really good in and out of his breaks,” the offensive coordinator said.

And it’s clear that the competitiveness between the two is only going to help the offense, Gran said.

Hart and Conrad are “two guys that are athletic, that like each other and I think they push each other,” Gran said. “I think that’s what makes them have fun every day and compete.”

Jennifer Smith: 859-231-3241, @jenheraldleader

Kentucky’s tight ends

The main man: Even in their introductory news conference, Kentucky’s new offensive coordinators mentioned sophomore C.J. Conrad by name. The 6-foot-5, 245-pounder led all freshman tight ends in the Southeastern Conference last season with 15 catches for 149 yards and a touchdown.

The supporting cast: While Conrad seems to be the star, he’ll have plenty of competition for playing time now that Nebraska transfer Greg Hart (who has the exact same measurements) is eligible to play. Tight ends coach Vince Marrow argued that Hart might be better than Conrad in some aspects of the game. “Greg may be a step faster,” Marrow said. “Greg is a strong kid, too.” For his part, Hart said blocking for a running back like Ameer Abdullah while at Nebraska helped him develop a love for blocking. The former high school receiver in him likes catching the ball a lot, too. Lost in the shuffle with UK’s dynamic duo at tight end is true freshman Justin Rigg, a 6-foot-6, 251-pound player out of Springboro, Ohio. “Don’t sleep on him now,” Marrow said. “He’s the biggest one in the room.” Rigg has been mentioned by several coaches as a player who could make an impact quickly.

Outlook: Both Hinshaw and Gran seem eager to use tight ends in their offense, perhaps even two at a time. So the days of UK’s tight ends being used as simply an extra blocker appear to be over. Both Conrad and Hart are mentioned regularly among potential offensive playmakers and matchup nightmares for opponents.

Scouting the Cats: Tight ends

This is the first of nine stories looking at the 2016 Kentucky football team position by position.

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