Jason Kelce Retires: How the Superstar Center Rose to Prominence With the Cincinnati Bearcats

After 13 years in the NFL, superstar center Jason Kelce has retired. But before becoming a perennial All-Pro, he was a Cincinnati Bearcat.

For 13 years, Jason Kelce has anchored the Philadelphia Eagles’ offensive line. Yet, the 2023-2024 season would be his last, as news broke that he was retiring following the team’s Wild Card loss to the Tamp Bay Buccaneers. However, a day later, Kelce said he hadn’t officially made a decision yet. Still, Kelce wasn’t a former first-round pick destined for greatness — his football legacy began as a walk-on running back for the Cincinnati Bearcats.

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Jason Kelce’s Career With the Cincinnati Bearcats

After earning two all-league selections and one league defensive MVP, recording 105 tackles (33 for loss) as a senior linebacker, and averaging 9.5 yards per carry as a running back, you’d think Kelce would’ve been a sought-after prospect from Ohio.

However, as with many recruits across the nation each year, Kelce fell through the cracks, receiving a no-star rating.

That only served as motivation, and he walked on at Cincinnati and made the team as an RB/FB and LB. He redshirted his first season but took no time off, garnering the Bearcats’ Scout Team Defensive Player of the Year Award.

The following season, Kelce transitioned to the offensive line, playing nine games as a center, guard, and special teamer. But 2008 was his coming out party, as he started 13 games at left guard and helped the team to an 11-3 record and an Orange Bowl appearance. It was also his brother Travis’ first season with the team.

2009 offered even more success, as Kelce earned All-Big East honors, and the Bearcats went undefeated before falling to Florida in the Sugar Bowl. But that wasn’t the only thing Cincinnati lost in Louisiana. Shortly after the game, Travis, then a QB, failed a drug test and was kicked off the team. Were it not for Jason, that’s likely where he would’ve stayed.

“He went into the coach’s office and talked to numerous coaches to try and give me another chance,” Travis said prior to Super Bowl LVII. “I’m forever in debt to this guy for putting his name, our name — the Kelce name — on the line. When I say I owe it all to him, I really do.”

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Travis was still suspended for the 2010 season, and with head coach Brian Kelly leaving for the Notre Dame job, the Bearcats fell to a 4-8 record, by far the worst record in Jason’s time with the team. But that was also the year he moved from guard to center — a position he’d call home for the next decade-plus — and earned second-team All-Big East recognition.

As a redshirt senior, Kelce’s clock ran out at Cincinnati, moving him to the next stop on his journey: the NFL.

Sexy Batman, the Brotherly Shove, and Embodying a City

Kelce was used to being overlooked, but that doesn’t make the disappointment any easier. Measuring in at 6’3″ and 280 pounds, many teams and scouts viewed Kelce as too undersized for a spot in the trenches.

Despite running a 4.89 40-yard dash and setting the fastest 20-yard shuttle time for an offensive line in Combine history (4.14), he had to wait until the 191st pick in the sixth round to hear his name called in the NFL Draft.

His professional journey got off to an even rockier start, as he had to wait until the NFL’s lockout ended in late July to practice and sign a contract with the Eagles. But with offensive line coach Howard Mudd believing Kelce could be Philly’s version of Jeff Saturday, who he coached in Indianapolis for 11 years, the arrow was pointing up.

After winning an offseason competition with incumbent center Jamaal Jackson, Kelce became the first Eagles rookie to start all 16 games at the position. As they say, the rest is history.

Kelce etched his name in the NFL record books by earning six first-team All-Pros, tied for the most among centers in the modern era. Moreover, he received seven Pro Bowl nods, started 193 regular-season games and 12 playoff contests, won the Super Bowl in 2017, and made another appearance in the big game last season.

There’s also the “Fat/Sexy Batman” nickname, being a finalist for People’s 2023 “Sexiest Man Alvie,” and, of course, his role in the rise of the Brotherly Shove. But each of those is merely a piece of the puzzle that is Kelce’s storied career.

His determination, work ethic, and toughness made him an instant locker-room leader, and his short-area quickness, range, and technical ability made him a future Hall of Famer. And while his eclectic wardrobe, humble personality, and charisma endeared him to fans across the country, Kelce’s underdog mentality and tenacity embodied the people of Philadelphia.

Being the face of a franchise is one thing, but being the face of a city is another. We’ll never see another player quite like Kelce, and although his playing career didn’t end the way he’d want it to or how he deserved, his impact on the community and the lasting legacy he leaves behind make him not just a sports icon, but a symbol of resilience and inspiration for generations to come.

What’s Next for Jason Kelce?

The biggest question staring down every NFL player after their career comes to a close is what they will do next.

But unlike some lesser-known athletes, Kelce’s options are abundant, and he’s dipped his hand in many jars.

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Of course, many will point to the ever-growing media and content machine. Jason and his brother Travis Kelce already share a popular podcast, “New Heights,” and the eldest sibling knows how to work an audience (see: Super Bowl parade speech).

Still, by all accounts, Jason is rather reserved and prefers to stay out of the spotlight. Real estate is another avenue and quite a lucrative one. He currently owns multiple properties worth over $7 million and plans on turning his home in Haverford, Pennsylvania, into an estate.

But perhaps Kelce’s strangest yet most plausible post-NFL career is that of a rancher. In the Amazon Prime documentary “Kelce,” Jason shared that he attended Greg Judy’s Grazing School Green Pasture to learn the basics of farming and agriculture, owns cows in Missouri, and began working on a garden.

Coaching is also in the air, as are hundreds of other paths. But as Kelce sets his mind on the future, he can reflect on the past and be proud of the path he blazed from an undersized, no-star recruit to one of the greatest centers ever to play the game.

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