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College Football Facts Countdown Series: Day 87—Examining C.J. Conrad and Kentucky’s tight end situation

Kentucky’s difficult history with tight ends has hopefully turned a new leaf.

NCAA Football: New Mexico State at Kentucky Mark Zerof-USA TODAY Sports

College football season is well within reach!

With less than 100 days until kickoff, we here at Team Speed Kills are introducing a brand-new, quotidian countdown series to help you prepare for the first slate of college football action on August 26th.

In this series, we will post a daily SEC-related fact and/or story that corresponds to the number of the day in the countdown. Hopefully, you’ll find this series enlightening and entertaining. If you do, click that ‘share’ button we all know and love. If you do not, quit lying to yourself.

Remember Jacob Tamme? The standout tight end was one of Kentucky’s best receivers in the mid 2000s, leading to his placement on the First Team All-SEC lists in both his junior and senior years. Ultimately, he would be taken by the Colts in the 4th round of the NFL Draft, spending 3 years catching passes from Peyton Manning—fellow SEC athlete and one of the best quarterbacks of all time.

Tamme was a star on some of Kentucky’s most exciting teams, including the 2007 one that rose all the way to No. 8 in the rankings after beating No. 1 LSU in triple overtime at Commonwealth Stadium Kroger Field. That year was certainly a strange one at the University of Kentucky—the football team was consistently better and a bit more popular than the basketball team, a fact that speaks to the quality of the players Rich Brooks had brought to the school.

Since then, Kentucky has struggled to find a tight end who could replicate the success of Jacob Tamme. All of Kentucky’s best receivers since 2007 have been actual wide receivers—save for Jordan Aumiller, the closest Kentucky has come to having a tight end similar to Tamme. In 2010, Aumiller managed to net 18 catches for 193 yards and a touchdown. In 2013, it was 124 yards. Kentucky has simply struggled at finding a tight end with the athletic and catching abilities necessary for a player in that position to become a star receiver.

All of that changed in 2015.

With the arrival of C.J. Conrad, a 4-star TE (according to 247Sports), Kentucky had reason for believing that the next Jacob Tamme could be in their midst. In his first season on campus, the freshman didn’t disappoint. Hauling in 15 passes for 149 yards and a touchdown, Conrad was already having one of the best seasons for a tight end at Kentucky in quite some time.

Still, there was room to improve, and improve he did. Proving he was a force to be reckoned with in the middle of the field, Conrad forced defenders to cover him like a wide receiver or pay the price. More often than not, opposing teams paid the price.

In 2016, Conrad emerged from a sporadic receiving target into a major player in Kentucky’s offense. He became Kentucky’s 4th-best receiver last season, as he managed to catch 19 passes for 262 yards and 4 touchdowns.

Still, it was the game against New Mexico State in which Conrad’s potential for greatness was realized. His performance against the Aggies was a tour de force, as New Mexico State was simply unable to bring him down once he got his hands on the ball. This is especially evident when watching his highlights from the game.

Watch how he is able to make the opposition pay once he makes the catch. With speed and agility that Kentucky isn’t used to seeing out of its tight ends, Conrad flies down the field for the score.

His moves would be on display once more in the game:

Conrad would finish that game with the best stat line of his still-young career, posting 3 total touchdowns on 5 catches that went for 133 yards. It was unlike anything Kentucky fans had seen in the roughly one decade since Tamme’s departure for the pros. It no doubt left Kentucky fans wondering if Conrad possessed a similar potential.

I’ve begun to wonder that myself.

Conrad certainly hasn’t had a Tamme-like season yet. And honestly, he might not. After all, Tamme’s numbers were phenomenal, and it’s baffling that he was never a Mackey Award finalist. He was an extremely talented player, the likes of which the Wildcats might never see again.

Jacob Tamme’s career stats at Kentucky

Still, if there’s anyone since then who can replicate the success and stats that Tamme put up, it’s Conrad. Next season will mark one decade since Tamme’s senior season, and it’ll also see us enter the final half of C.J. Conrad’s time at Kentucky. The jump from 2015 to 2016 saw a massive improvement in nearly every facet of Kentucky football, from quarterback to tight end.

Kentucky fans are hoping that the jump from 2016 to 2017 sees an even greater jump for C.J. Conrad, the man who could become the next Jacob Tamme.