Travis Kelce had a career year at the University of Cincinnati in 2012, and he had to do it while playing through pain.
Despite having what he called a sports hernia, Kelce caught 45 passes for 722 yards, averaged 16.0 yards per reception and scored eight touchdowns for the Bearcats, who went 10-3 and represented the Big East Conference with a 48-34 victory over Duke in the Belk Bowl.
“My health is on its way,” Kelce said at the 2013 NFL Scouting Combine. “I had a ruptured lower abdomen. I tore it probably around Week Three during the season. I just played through it, got through the season and it was still nagging me during the Combine training. I just decided I needed to get it fixed. About a month out of surgery, I was feeling pretty good. Nothing was hurting; nothing’s annoying. It was just stiff and I’ve got to get back into shape.
“Mentally, I’m fine. I’m as confident as I’ll always be. Whether or not I get injured, I’m going to bounce back and be ready to go. I’ve had injuries before and have shown I can get through that and be able to play at a high level, be able to excel and produce at a high level.”
The sports hernia was not Kelce’s first brush with playing through an injury. By learning to play with the pain of injuries, Kelce believes that proves something to NFL coaches and front-office decision-makers when evaluating his skills against the other tight ends eligible for the 2013 NFL Draft, which takes place April 25-27 in New York City’s Radio City Music Hall.
“I’ve played through a lot of injuries,” Kelce said. “Unfortunately, I’ve been hit with a shoulder injury twice. I played through that in the 2011 season, hadn’t had a problem with that since. Being able to playing through this, I think teams want to have a guy on their roster that’s going to keep playing knowing that the team needs him on the field.”
During his career at Cincinnati, Kelce’s obstacles were not limited to injuries. After the arrival of coach Butch Jones, Kelce violated team rules and was suspended for the entire 2010 season.
Throughout the pre-draft process, Kelce has tried to explain to teams that he is “a high-character” guy who has put his mistakes behind him.
“The stuff that’s happened is in my past,” Kelce said. “I’ve dealt with it; I’ve learned from it and I’ve overcome everything that happened in my early college career. I’m willing to do whatever the team needs me to do and I’m all for the organization.
“You live and you learn, just no regret at all. You just overcome the difficulties of not being able to play an entire season, like I did in 2010, being able to learn from my mistakes and being able to grow from that.”
After all of the obstacles Kelce encountered in his career at Cincinnati, he went out with a highlight-reel play. With the Bearcats and Blue Devils sitting at a 34-34 tie with 1:20 to play in the fourth quarter, Cincinnati quarterback Brendon Kay took a snap and threw the ball to Kelce, who caught the pass and ran 83 yards for the game-winning score.
“Talk about a way to go out,” Kelce said. “It was unexpected. It was a seam route. I was just running down the hash and I was about 20 yards downfield before I looked around and noticed I was open. When I turned over my shoulder, the ball was in my lap. From that point, it was just adrenaline that took me into the end zone. For us to go out like that, especially with the coaching staff that we had and the amount of support that we had, it was an all-around team effort. That play itself was a milestone for me, personally, but for the team to get a win in that condition is definitely something special.”