From getting the call to making one of his own, former Kentucky football standout CJ Conrad always seems to be in the right spot.
As one of the most popular players during the Mark Stoops era, Conrad is best known for making the game-winning catch at Missouri in 2018, getting his number called on the final play of the game as Terry Wilson hit the 6-foot-5 tight end with a 2-yard strike in the left corner of the end zone for a thrilling 15-14 walk-off victory during a record-setting year for Kentucky football.
Fast forward to 2020 and Conrad, now retired from football after a year-long stint on the New York Giants’ practice squad, picked up the phone, making the right call once again, this time to Stoops, who recently named the Ohio native as an off-the-field graduate assistant coach for the 2020 season.
“I’m really looking forward to it,” said Conrad about the new coaching job during a guest spot on the Behind Kentucky Football Podcast. “Just coming back to the place that I feel like, you know, I had a big impact on helping out and help build this program. Being a year removed and watching this team last year and how much success that they had, I’m really looking forward to helping as much as I can. This is the path and journey that I wanted to take.”
Conrad, a four-year starter (2015-2018), racked up 1,015 yards on 80 catches for the Wildcats while starting 42 of 49 games over his career. He will work primarily with tight ends and special teams, while learning the ropes from Stoops and Associate Head Coach Vince Morrow, a former NFL tight end and fellow Ohio native who was instrumental in Conrad’s development at UK, both on and off the field.
“A lot of behind the scenes work to start with,” said Conrad about his new job duties. “Breaking down film, helping with practice plans, helping in the film room meetings, a lot of the grind and gritty stuff that some people don’t see. Just helping the guys as much as I can, trying to be a guy who’s played the position, played here, had a little experience in the NFL, just trying to use as much wisdom as I can to bring to this program.”
Conrad brings instant credibility to his new coaching gig as his 12 touchdowns are second most in school history for a tight end, just one behind James Whalen (13). He’s also a member of the 1,000 yard club for career receptions.
But with all his success at UK, Conrad will forever be remembered for making one of the biggest plays in football history with “the catch” in Columbia, Missouri.
New Kentucky Football grad assistant CJ Conrad breaks down his game winning TD catch against Missouri, “What’s funny about that is the whole drive, building up to that play, I was out… They yelled my name & I’m like, oh man we’re running this play, never ran it before, only ran it in practice”
Posted by UK Sports Network on Tuesday, July 28, 2020
Kentucky trailed the Tigers 14-3 heading into the fourth quarter and struggled in the passing game as then backup quarterback Gunnar Hoak replaced Wilson, the starter, for a couple reps in a desperate attempt to change momentum. Wilson would quickly return behind center and Lynn Bowden gave the Wildcats new life after returning a 67-yard punt to cut the lead to 14-9 to set up the final 81-yard scoring drive over the game’s final 1:24.
In reflecting on the game winning play, Conrad admitted that he was surprised to be on the field in that moment and had even removed his wrist tape and helmet as he was not part of the game plan for the two-minute offense.
Things quickly changed when Stoops and company called Conrad’s number, a “wheel route” that worked to perfection.
“I was ready to chalk it up for the day. I was just cheering on my teammates hoping we get a win,” said Conrad about the game’s final drive. “They yelled my name and I’m like, ‘oh man we’re running this play.’ Never ran it before. Only ran it in practice but I was ready to go.”
With the win at Missouri, Kentucky moved to 7-1 overall and would go on to win 10 games in a season for the first time since 1977, beating Penn State in the Citrus Bowl.
In addition to his success on the field, Conrad also became a fan favorite for his community service, making weekly visits to the UK Children’s Hospital in what became known as “Tuesdays with CJ.” He said he hopes to continue that weekly tradition, possibly bringing current players and coaches in tow.
“I love Lexington. I love giving back,” said Conrad who was a member of the 2018 SEC Community Service Team. “I feel like players and coaches have such a platform here and to use that and put a smile on kids’ faces…I’m still going to make my hospital visits as much as I can, although I’m not a player anymore and the kids may not remember me, but I’m still going to go.”
Bringing back “Tuesdays with CJ” sounds like another right call for CJ Conrad.