Travis Kelce College Stats: Failed Drug Test Almost Upended All Pro Career

There's no doubt that Travis Kelce is bound for the NFL Hall of Fame, but a look at his college stats for Cincinnati reveals how that nearly unraveled.

There is no question that Travis Kelce is a future Hall of Famer, setting NFL records at the tight end position in a career littered with postseason accolades.

It’s hard to fathom that it was all nearly derailed before it began with a missed sophomore season at Cincinnati due to suspension, followed by a full-time position switch from quarterback to tight end. Kelce is about to play in the fourth Super Bowl of his career, but before he hits the big stage, let’s look back at how he got here.

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Travis Kelce Struggles Before Finding His Way

Before Kelce was wreaking havoc on defenses with crisp routes and punishing blocks, he was doing so under center as a dual-threat quarterback at Cleveland Heights High School in Ohio. He passed for 1,523 yards, 21 touchdowns, and eight interceptions while rushing for another 1,016 yards and 10 touchdowns his senior season in 2007.

He reportedly had offers from Akron, Eastern Michigan, and Miami (Ohio) but chose Cincinnati to play with his older brother, Jason, the starting left guard for the Bearcats.

After taking a redshirt as a true freshman in 2008, Kelce appeared in 11 games with no starts in 2009 as a Wildcat QB and tight end. He rushed for 47 yards and two scores on eight attempts with just one reception for three yards.

The Bearcats were 12-0 with an invitation to the Sugar Bowl after the 2009 season before head coach Brian Kelly left for Notre Dame. With its coach in South Bend, Cincinnati lost the Sugar Bowl 51-24 to Florida in Tim Tebow’s final game.

A failed drug test for marijuana after the Sugar Bowl led to a season-long suspension for Kelce, who didn’t suit up in 2010. He has since opened up about this on the Bussin’ with the Boys podcast, saying the suspension forced him to focus on tight end full-time and was the catalyst for his ascension.

“I partied a little too much down there (the Sugar Bowl), got hit with a drug test, and from that point on, I realized I’ve got to tighten the (expletive) up,” Kelce said.

“What it did was it really kicked me into the tight end room. I was still playing quarterback then. It was like, ‘Alright, you can come walk on the team, but we don’t need a quarterback. You can just be an athlete on scout team for a year, and we’ll figure it out.'”

Thanks to his brother helping convince Butch Jones’ staff to let him back on the team, Travis Kelce returned for his junior season with a renewed focus.

“(Jason) went into the coaches office and talked to numerous coaches to try and give me another chance,” Kelce said. “I’m forever in debt to (Jason) for putting his name, our name – the Kelce name – on the line. When I say I owe it all to him, I really do.”

He played in 11 games and caught 13 passes for 150 yards and two touchdowns in 2011 before a breakout senior season.

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Kelce set the Bearcats single-season receiving yards record by a tight end in 2012, finishing with 722 yards on 45 catches and eight touchdowns. That led to him to being drafted in the third round by the Chiefs, and the rest is history.

It’s a good thing he was able to hone the message from a hit song by his significant other, Taylor Swift, and “Shake It Off.”

Kelce Keeps Winning

While he didn’t set as many individual records in college as he has in the pros, he’s won as regularly then as he does now.

The Bearcats went 42-9 in the four seasons he played, winning the Big East each year (2008-2009 with Brian Kelly, 2011-2012 with Butch Jones). Cincinnati went 4-8 in 2010, the year he was suspended. The Chiefs have won the AFC West in eight of Kelce’s 11 seasons, all of them consecutively in the last eight seasons.

MORE: How Superstar Center Jason Kelce Rose to Promince at Cincinnati 

Nine consecutive Pro Bowl selections (2015-2023), a four-time First Team All-Pro selection (2016, 2018, 2020, 2022), three-time Second Team All-Pro selection (2017, 2019, 2021), and two-time Super Bowl winner (LIV in 2020, LVII in 2022) – Kelce’s NFL career has been sensational, to say the least.

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