Our series previewing next year’s roster continues and now we move on to Vince Marrow’s position room. The Wildcats return every scholarship player from last season’s roster including a guy who was able to redshirt last season despite receiving some game reps. UK will enter the year with four scholarship players and this spot has proven to be an integral part of the offense despite not producing a ton of receptions.
Justin Rigg enters his redshirt senior season having played 41 games with 14 starts. He leads the tight end room with 18 career receptions. At 6-foot-6 and 263 pounds, the Springboro, Ohio and former three-star prospect in the class of 2016 provides some much needed size and a reliable target in the play-action pass game. He will be looking to get his first career touchdown in his final season in Lexington.
Keaton Upshaw redshirted his first season before seeing field last year and the jumbo athlete started two games while recording seven grabs for 78 yards and a touchdown. The 6-foot-6, 247-pound tight end from Lima, Ohio just looks different than the rest of UK’s tight ends and has a very high ceiling. He can spread out and be a tough matchup for defenders in space and this will be a very important spring for his development. He needs to become a better blocker so he can stay on the field more often, but there’s no denying the problems he can give defenses as a pass catcher.
Brenden Bates enters his redshirt sophomore season after mainly serving as a special teams player last year. He played in all 13 games in 2019, but rarely got reps at tight end. UK was able to redshirt true freshman Nik Ognenovic last season with the South Florida native only playing in two games. However, in a small sample size, he has shown some nice receiving ability and could be a guy that joins the rotation this fall. In a bit of a hybrid role, Drew Schlegel is back for his redshirt senior season and will be used as a lead blocker or sorts. UK will utilize the former walk-on as both a fullback and H-back in addition to his strong special teams contributions. He’s an important piece to what UK does.
After last season, Kentucky had no departures to deal with in Vince Marrow’s position room and therefore the Wildcats did not add a tight end in this most recent recruiting haul. Of Kentucky’s 22 signees, half were on the offensive side of the football. UK went big on the offensive line and wide receiver while adding two quarterbacks when you throw in the addition of Joey Gatewood via transfer. They decided to wait on tight end.
It is now time for the four players listed above to develop before UK reels in a tight end or two in the class of 2021.
Kentucky returns 17 starters in 2020 and the tight end position is one of the most experienced on the football team. Justin Rigg has been a solid contributor in his career and will be the guy that leads the way in his redshirt senior season. Keaton Upshaw got his feet wet last season and would’ve had much bigger numbers if UK didn’t totally throw away the pass game. Both Brenden Bates and Nik Ognenovic each seem poised to breakthrough into the rotation this fall. Drew Schlegel provides nice versatility off the bench to give the offense a good blocker in short-yardage situations.
With Terry Wilson returning to the lineup, the passing game will be a bigger factor and that is where this group can make an impact. Justin Rigg has been a reliable option in the pass game whether it be a pop pass or when UK goes to the tight end middle screen. However, there is no denying the potential of Keaton Upshaw. He brings a skill set to the field that no other player has and his potential to line up wide at receiver could present a dilemma for opposing defenses in how they matchup with their personnel groupings. The production that UK gets from that redshirt sophomore will make or brake this position in 2020.