Kelce out to change perceptions

Travis Kelce could’ve easily not had the opportunity he had Thursday. When Butch Jones came to the University of Cincinnati as its head football coach prior to the 2010 season he ended up suspending Kelce for violating team rules.

Kelce was allowed to earn his way back into the good graces of Jones and the team by playing on the scout team, a role he performed so well he was named the top offensive scout team player that season.

On Thursday, Kelce got a chance to show representatives from 21 of the 32 NFL teams where he stands physically three weeks before the draft. Kelce, who had hernia surgery in January, held a private pro day for coaches and scouts at UC’s Sheakley Athletic complex.

He was put through drills by New York Giants tight ends coach Michael Pope, with coaches Jonathan Hayes of the Bengals and Dan Campbell of the Dolphins also helping.

Mock drafts have projected Kelce will be selected anywhere from the second to fifth rounds.

“It was an experience, to say the least. It was good to come out here and just compete,” said Kelce. “I’ve been sitting around with my injury and trying to get back in shape and trying to get as healthy as possible. It was good to compete and get after it and show guys how fast I can move and the type of athlete I am.”

Kelce has the measurables to play tight end in the NFL, standing 6-feet-5 and weighing 255 pounds, and his production at the position for the Bearcats the last two seasons has warranted teams to pay attention. The question he’s going to be asked and he’s going to have to answer is: are you that player and person who made the decisions that got himself suspended three years ago?

He began dealing with that question during February’s combine. Kelce didn’t work out in Indianapolis but he went through the interview process with several teams. While the transgressions he made aren’t publically known, he was upfront with the teams.

“Just let them know that I’m a high-character guy,” said Kelce during a media interview at the combine. “There’s stuff that’s happened in my past that’s happened. I’ve dealt with it. I’ve learned from it and I’ve overcome everything that’s happened earlier in my college career. And to let them know who I am as a person, that I’m willing to do whatever the team needs me to do and I’m all for the organization as a whole.”

Kelce was invited to play in the Senior Bowl after catching 45 passes for 722 yards and eight touchdowns, including an 83-yard touchdown against Duke with 44 seconds left to play that broke a 34-34 tie and gave the Bearcats the lead for good in a 48-34 victory. He set program records for receptions, yards receiving and touchdowns by a tight end. Kelce said at the combine that he played with a ruptured lower abdomen for most of the season.

The surgery forced him to miss the Senior Bowl, as well as working out for teams at the combine and UC’s pro day.

Former UC quarterback Zach Collaros, now playing for Toronto in the CFL, threw passes to Kelce during the workout. Collaros and Kelce are also former roommates.

“He doesn’t look any different to me,” said Collaros. “I knew that he was going to be a high, productive draft pick from the day that he stepped on campus just because of his athleticism and how much he loves to play the game.”

Collaros said the 2010 season did have an effect on Kelce, for the better.

“He really grew up a lot, especially the last two and a half years that I was here,” said Collaros. “I know he had a phenomenal year. I’m going to guess that he put even more of his mind to it and you can thank coach Jones for that because he really stayed on Travis and he grew up a lot.”

Kelce unofficially ran 4.6 seconds in the 40-yard dash and had a vertical leap of 37 inches. He did not do the bench press. He was not asked to run routes off the line of scrimmage during his individual drills.

“Health-wise, I’m good to go. I feel comfortable doing whatever anyone needs me to do,” said Kelce. “My strength and explosiveness isn’t where it’s been. I’ll be ready by the time camp comes around and by the time the season comes around but I’ve got to get back into the weight room and keep chugging away at it.”