A native of University Heights, Ohio, Kelce was an unknown linebacker with the desire to work and do whatever it took to find his place at the University of Cincinnati.
Now a redshirt junior, Kelce is a key member of the Bearcats high powered offense as the starting left guard. But while the past is in his rearview mirror he has no problem looking back at his journey.
Senior Year High School
As a senior at Cleveland Heights High School, Jason Kelce didn't have college coaches knocking down his door. In fact he didn't hold scholarship offers from any program but felt he could play football at a high level.
"I weighted 210-215 pounds and played linebacker in high school. I didn't have any muscle really at all; it was just how I was naturally. I really didn't lift weights as I played three sports so I wasn't spending time in a weight room getting bigger, stronger, and faster."
While Jason had some weights available to him it really wasn't much of a weight room to change your body to that of a major college athlete.
"There really wasn't a weight program when I was at Cleveland Heights. Now they've got a coach who is really doing a great job transforming the place. But when I was there the weight room was dirty, rusty and really didn't look like anyone had gone in there much. There were some weights but we had an old squat rack that looked like it would fall if you put to much weight on it, we had the typical squat and bench press and then a universal thing but there really wasn't any platforms for hang-clean so it really wasn't in good shape. Back then you didn't know what a college weight room really looked like but even then I didn't think you needed all those things until I got here at Cincinnati."
That first trip to the Bearcats weight room was an eye opener and an experience Jason still remembers today.
"The first time I went in the weight room here a player who use to play here Jordan Roth gave me a workout and he kind of welcomed me to college football. I walked out of the weight room that first day not being able to lift my hands over my head, so it was a wake-up call because I was thinking here I am a walk-on linebacker who didn't have any scholarship offers from anybody and if I'm going to make it at this level this is were I'm going to live. I really took it to heart and worked with Dave Andrews and Jordan Roth my freshman year every chance I could get."
But if the work in the weight room didn't kill him the life of a walk-on would soon yield it's head as Jason learned he wasn't living the same life many of his new teammates were enjoying.
With the dream still strong in his heart Jason tackled that first season.
"When I reported to campus I was between 215-220-pounds and by the end of that season I was about 235-pounds and it wasn't a good 235. At that time the strength & conditioning program was not very good as compared to what we have here today with Coach Longo.
As a top athlete you've got to give the body fuel. But walk-on student athletes don't get to eat team meals with the team and miss out on getting the quality and quantity of food needed.
"When you're a walk-on you don't get to eat the team meals as you're stuck eating the cafeteria food that you're paying for. If you don't have a lot of swipes on your card you can get in big trouble as you don't have the amount of food needed. I wasn't eating the way I needed to be successful."
With the first season as a walk-on coming to a close Kelce along with his teammates were getting ready for a big change. Mark Dantonio was leaving for Michigan State and Brian Kelly would soon take over the Bearcats program.
Once Kelly and strength coach Paul Longo got a look at Jason they approached him about a position move to the offensive line.
"When Coach Kelly came in he and Coach Longo sat me down and said they wanted to move me from linebacker to offensive line. I told them I really liked it here and had no problem making the move. When they told me how much weight I needed to gain I told them just how I felt. I really didn't feel I could put on the needed weight without being on scholarship. There was no way I felt it could be done unless I had the food I would need to add the weight. They both said they felt I'd worked hard enough and then they were kind enough to put me on scholarship so I could continue to work hard and put on the needed weight."
"Being on scholarship allowed me to eat all the right things (eat all I wanted) and on top of Coach Longo getting the strength program going in the right direction I just started to bloom up."
For Kelce the results came and by his second season the transformation was strong.
"At the end of year two I was 260-pounds. From spring when I started off to the end of the season I had gone from 235-pounds to about 270-pounds and down to about 260-pounds when the season had ended. Coach Long teaches you're going to be a little heavier before the season because you're going to lose that weight working out and eating healthy during the season and you'll feel leaner."
Because of the weight gain needed Kelce had to change what Coach Longo preaches.
"Coach Longo always says meat, leaf and berries. For most guys that's what you should be on but at that point in my stage that wasn't going to allow me to gain the weight needed to move and play on the offensive line. So you want to eat your breads and stuff and he had me on some weight gaining supplements as well."
For Jason the hard work was behind him or so he thought. We'll continue our look at the transformation of Jason Kelce in Part Two of the "Hard Road Taken".