With his weight up Jason Kelce was far from being a finished product. Year three provided more chances to grown and get better on the field.
"I came into camp at 290-pounds but played the season at 280-pounds. Like I said, Coach Longo wants you to get the weight up and as it comes off during camp you'll feel leaner and feel more in shape. So I played the season at about 280-pounds.
But while many could claim Jason had become a weight-room warrior, he soon learned it's not the amount of time spent in the weight room but what you do when you're in there.
"You can do as much as you want and I think I was doing more than Coach Longo wanted me to be doing. Coach Longo didn't want me doing more on my own. While that might sound crazy, I soon learned while you may think the harder you work the more you'll get out of it is not always true."
"While putting in the time does help you get bigger and stronger, Coach Longo would see me down there and ask what I was doing. Coach Longo and his staff is a big stickler on letting your body recover from the work you do. I thought I was just trying to get better but he was quick to tell me you don't want to work too hard, you want to work smart."
"The way Coach Longo works is you don't do things he's doing at 70%, he wants you doing things at 100% so you have nothing left from his workout. I'm not just getting the rep up; I'm pushing as hard and fast as I can and leaving nothing behind."
While he's enjoying the success team has had the past three seasons, Jason wasn't thinking much about how many games would be won, or where the Bearcats would be ranked in the polls. Did he see the team having the success it's enjoyed before coming here?
"Absolutely not, like I tell people all the time, I walked into a diamond in the rough. I came here as a walk-on hoping to have a chance to earn a scholarship. I had no idea this is what Cincinnati football was going to turn into. Other players did, but I was not one of them. I had no idea we'd one of the best in the Big East and now one of the best in the country."
With the hard work came success and at times even failure. Was there ever a time when Jason was ready to walk away?
"There were times it was very rough as I thought I was better than some scholarship players. But that is the life of a walk-on. Scholarship guys always get the shot ahead of you. But I feel the best thing that has happen to me in life is coming here as a walk-on. I've learned about perseverance and knowing how to push through things because when you feel you're better than two or three guys in front of you it makes you bite your tongue and keep fighting."
Over time Jason has become one of the team's leaders and for good reason. His story from walk-on to scholarship, from dreaming of playing time to a full time starter allows him to be more vocal when teammates may not be putting forth the effort needed for the team's success. When a player is dogging it does it get to Jason?
"I hate it! There is nothing more that I hate than someone not giving effort. There are guys out here not on scholarship busting it who would love to be in the position your in. If you're not putting forth the effort needed to help the team your hurting yourself and the team as a whole. That is something you don't see on the offensive line because Jeff (Linkenbach) and I just won't allow it to happen. It's really changed my mentality as far as who deserves respect on the team."
As for this season Jason saw more growth from the end of last season to the start of camp at Higher Ground.
"This year at camp I was just over 300-pounds and now I'm down to 295-pounds. It feels good and I like this weight. I could be a little bit bigger next year but I'm not going to try and gain as much weight next year as now I want to add strength and get in better condition. There is always room to be in better condition."
If you missed Part One of "Hard Road Taken" please click on the following link.
Jason Kelce is a true success story and inspiration to many of his teammates. The path he's taken has made the rewards of the teams success even sweeter and something he'll carry with him his entire life.