As C.J. Conrad completes his final year at Kentucky, another tight end looks prepared to seamlessly fill his shoes.
Ft. Lauderdale’s Nik Ognenovic (Oh-Gin-oh-vick) is a 6’7″ 240-pound pass-catcher that will sign with Kentucky in December. With three tight ends returning next fall, it may take him some time to climb up the depth chart to get on the field, but Ognenovic has the size and work ethic to become one of the best in the SEC.
The Cardinal Gibbons tight end first caught the eyes of Eddie Gran while UK’s offensive coordinator scouted his quarterback, Nik Scalzo. Yes, Kentucky will sign a pair of Niks from the same team.
“We thought we were being creative,” Nik’s father Steve told KSR. “Apparently the Scalzo’s thought the same way.”
The two Niks won a 7-on-7 National Championship and are on the way to a State Championship after upsetting rival American Heritage two weeks ago. Scalzo gives himself credit for getting the tight end to commit to Kentucky.
Ognenovic’s recruitment essentially came down to four schools — Kentucky, Pitt and Louisville. He had a teammate already committed to each school: offensive guard Jamari Brown to Louisville, running back Vincent Davis to Pitt and Scalzo to UK.
“I’m the reason why he’s going to Kentucky,” Scalzo said. “He had to take his quarterback over his running back.”
Ognenovic tells a different story.
“I had them both in my ear, but ultimately you have to make the decision for yourself. I felt like Kentucky was the better decision for me,” Ognenovic said. “Every time I was on campus it just felt like home. I just felt like I belonged there.”
Each school had its pros and cons, some more than others. At the end of the day, Kentucky was the “total package.”
“He’s a perfect fit for the school,” Steve Ognenovic said. “I can’t say enough about Coach Gran, Coach Stoops and Coach Marrow, (tight end GA) Mike Colosimo, all of those guys over there. We feel they’re in good hands.”
Nik’s parents will never be too far from their son. They’re in the process of purchasing an RV to travel to every game. When his parents aren’t around, they trust in Stoops’s staff. Stoops told the Ognenovics, “When you turn ‘em over to us, this is family up here. Don’t worry about it.”
Built to (Almost) Beat Dad
Before Big Nik committed to Kentucky, they visited schools all across the country. At almost every stop there was a photoshoot. In each photoshoot Nik was not the star.
Those guns didn’t get there overnight. Steve will take his son to the gym to show him a thing or two.
“It’s exhausting, but it’s fun,” Nik said. “I try to do his weight all the time. Most of the time I can, until we hit our fourth set of 12 and I start to die.”
Then the trash-talk begins.
“That’s great that you’re this big, strong, aggressive, athletic athlete that’s a D-I SEC receiver. Don’t ever think for a second that your Dad won’t put you on your back,” Steve laughed. After all, he’s gotta get in all the shots while he can.
“I don’t know how many more months of this I have left but I tell you what, I definitely was on top the last time we wrestled and I definitely beat him up in the gym. I might have to just quit while I’m ahead. After you guys get him at UK, I don’t think there’s going to be anymore of Dad out-performing him in the gym, I’ll tell you that.”
There is one area where Nik has a slight advantage over his pops. “He’s got an eight-pack going, not even a six-pack, an eight-pack. I’m kind of jealous a little bit.”
One of UK’s best recruiters for Ognenovic was C.J. Conrad. The senior hosted Ognenovic on his official visit this summer. The two immediately clicked. After speaking with Ognenovic for two minutes, I understood why.
A soft-spoken teenager, Ognenovic is physically gifted, but that’s not why he’s successful. The tight end is a non-nonsense “yes sir, no sir” person. All of his success is rooted in work ethic. That approach and his personality mirrors a young Conrad.
“I don’t talk a lot. I just try to stay humble and do what I’m supposed to do,” said Nik.
Cardinal Gibbons coach Matt DuBuc has never had a problem with Nik or his “off the charts” work ethic. “Whatever coach tells him to do, he’s going to do it.”
“The kid has a really good head on his shoulders,” his father said. “He’s a great student of the game. I think he takes direction very well.”
Ognenovic’s personality is a reflection of his favorite player, Larry Fitzgerald. He’s not a fan because he was on the cover of a video game. He models his game after Fitzgerald because of how Fitzgerald became great.
“He’s humble, he does his job. He’s very consistent, he does what he’s supposed to do and I’ve always looked up to him since I was like six.”
When Ognenovic first met Conrad, he could see many of the same characteristics. Conrad wasn’t the biggest or most athletic tight end when he first got to Kentucky, but he developed into a monster in the SEC. That didn’t happen overnight.
“I really like how he developed,” Nik said. “I wanna play just like C.J.”
To get there, Ognenovic has plenty of work to do. He currently plays in an Air Raid scheme, often detached as a slot receiver. Vince Marrow will be tasked to mold him into a physical blocker in the trenches. If Ognenovic takes one step at a time, the sky is the limit.
“I said it to Coach Stoops and Coach Gran before, this isn’t just a proud Dad talking, but he’s on pace to be one of the best tight ends in the country before his NCAA career is over.”