Did Travis Kelce play quarterback? Revisiting the Chiefs star’s high school football career

There are few players in the NFL who can catch passes better than Travis Kelce.

Since his first full season in the league in 2014, no one has had more receptions than his 814, and only Julio Jones (10,892), DeAndre Hopkins (10,496) and Mike Evans (10,425) have more than Kelce’s 10,344 reception yards. The Chiefs star has the fifth most catches by close ends in NFL history and the fourth most touchdowns in his Hall of Fame career.

But it wasn’t that long ago that Kelce was a standout at throwing passes rather than catching them. As late as his redshirt freshman season in college, he still snapped occasional snaps below the middle. And in high school, quarterback was his primary position.

How did he go from two-threat QB to one of the best tight ends of all time? Here’s Kelce’s quarterback story.

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Travis Kelce’s Quarterback Career

Kelce might be one of the NFL’s best tight ends now, but when he got his first chances to play at the high school level, it was under middle.

It wasn’t until 2006, when Kelce was a junior in high school, that he got his first start. According to the Cleveland Plain Dealer, he completed 3 of 12 passes for 60 yards left with 65 yards and two touchdowns rushing in Cleveland Heights’ 24-22 win over Warrensville Heights.

“We’re happy with what Travis did,” Tigers coach Mike Jones told the plain dealer. “We want to pass the ball more and we will. It’s just that we got out to one [24-7] lead and we tried to use the clock.”

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The first year had its ups and downs. Kelce showed his ability to breach defenses with his dual-threat skills, but the team finished the year 3-7 overall and 1-4 in the Lake Division, last among the five teams.

His senior year 2007 began with some uncertainty at quarterback. The Plain Dealer reported that under first-year head coach Jeff Rotsky, there was a “quarterback race” between Kelce and junior Aric Jones, though Kelce had the advantage with offers from big schools.

“Travis has scholarship offers from Kansas and all Mid-American Conference schools,” Rotsky told The Plain Dealer. “Some of the colleges consider him a quarterback, some consider him a tight end.”

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His final year didn’t bring improved results from the team as the Tigers again finished 3-7, 1-4, but Kelce had a promising season. He finished with 1,523 passing yards, 15 touchdowns, and eight interceptions while also rushing for 1,016 yards and 10 touchdowns. Kelce, who excels on both the basketball court and the gridiron, was also nominated for the McDonald’s High School All-America team.

In November, Kelce made his college commitment: he would follow his brother Jason Kelce to Cincinnati. The Plain Dealer noted in his article about his engagement that although some schools considered the 6-6, 235-pound recruit a tight end, Kelce was still more interested in the quarterback. However, he does not rule out a change of position.

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“The University of Cincinnati also gives me an opportunity to play basketball,” Kelce told the Plain Dealer. “But the main reason is football and it depended on the type of offense they are running.

“They lead the dissemination and I’m used to that.”

Part of Kelce’s decision to sign for Cincinnati was based on a chance to play quarterback. The Cincinnati Enquirer reported that he had offers from Michigan, Michigan State and West Virginia and that Bearcats coach Brian Kelly hinted to Kelce that he could play the position.

Kelce switched to redshirt in 2008. In 2009, the coaches looked for ways to get Kelce more involved in offense. The Bearcats created a wildcat package to put Kelce on the field as quarterback. He would make read options with top wide receiver Mardy Gilyard, who was also in the backfield.

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“It was Travis’ whole world, whatever he wanted to do there,” Gilyard told The Enqurier. “What he did was crazy, but it worked because we all trusted his athleticism.”

Kelce was suspended for the 2010 season, and the Enquirer reported that new coach Butch Jones made the decision in 2011 to put Kelce on tight end full-time. It was a slow transition, Jones told the Enquirer, but Kelce eventually started taking over the position and stayed after training to improve.

“It was a process,” Jones told the Enquirer. “But when you look at the positional traits you’re looking for in a tight end from a toughness standpoint, from an athletics standpoint and the ability to create matchups against a defense, it was a no-brainer. But he had to put himself in that position. He had to work every day. Every day there were struggles and triumphs, but in two years he became a changed person on and off the pitch.”

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In 2011, Kelce was the team’s third fixed end, and the quarterback was in the rearview mirror. The next season, his redshirt senior year, he caught 45 passes for 722 yards and eight touchdowns. He went to the NFL after the season and the rest is history.

Could Kelce have challenged Patrick Mahomes as quarterback? Probably not. But Mahomes is probably happy that Kelce has given up throwing passes and made a career out of catching them.

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