Who are the Kelce brothers? Their former Cincinnati football coaches have things to say

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Peyton and Eli Manning both won Super Bowls playing quarterback but never faced each other in the big game.

Just 10 years ago, Jim and John Harbaugh squared off as opposing head coaches when the Baltimore Ravens beat the San Francisco 49ers in Super Bowl 47.

However, no two brothers have ever suited up against one another in a Super Bowl.

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Come Feb. 12, Ed and Donna Kelce's sons will make NFL history as Jason's NFC champion Philadelphia Eagles will clash with Travis Kelce's AFC champion Kansas City Chiefs in Super Bowl 57. It's the second Super Bowl for both, games both their teams won.

The brothers graduated from Cleveland Heights High School in Cuyahoga County in 2006 (Jason) and 2008 (Travis). While their football careers eventually converged at the University of Cincinnati, their roads to success had twists and turns.

Former UC football coaches Mark Dantonio, Brian Kelly and Butch Jones remember Jason and Travis Kelce

To those who witnessed their time around Nippert Stadium, the Kelces were always entertaining and somewhat mischievous.

Watching Jason Kelce dress up as a Mummer's Parade member when the Eagles won Super Bowl 52 in 2018 or watching Travis Kelce, a 2019 Super Bowl champ, do the UC cheer after touchdowns, surprised no one who followed their time as Bearcats.

"I was just trying to make sure they made it to the next game," current LSU coach Brian Kelly said of his UC time with the brothers (December 2006-December 2009). "They were great personalities. Jason was an emotional leader. He loved his teammates. He loved playing for Cincinnati."

Philadelphia Eagles center Jason Kelce speaks at the conclusion of the NFL team's Super Bowl victory parade in front of the Philadelphia Museum of Art in Philadelphia Feb. 8, 2018.
Philadelphia Eagles center Jason Kelce speaks at the conclusion of the NFL team's Super Bowl victory parade in front of the Philadelphia Museum of Art in Philadelphia Feb. 8, 2018.

How Jason Kelce went from Cincinnati walk-on to NFL All-Pro

Now 35, Jason Kelce came to UC's campus as a walk-on linebacker. A few pounds and practice scuffles later, he was an offensive lineman and eventually a sixth-round pick of the Eagles in 2011.

In 2006, as a Bearcat redshirt for Mark Dantonio, Jason was Scout Team Defensive Player of the Year. At one point mid-year, Dantonio needed a scout team offensive lineman. He approached Jason even though at 240 pounds, he was some 50 pounds lighter than his current playing weight.

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"We asked him to move over for just one week," Dantonio said. "He did and played center. We got into a situation where we had to keep him there because of injuries. It's pretty crazy how his career sort of changed when he became an offensive center. He was so much more athletic than the guys that were around him."

That said, Dantonio admits he didn't see him as an All-Pro offensive lineman for all of these years. He credits Jason's hard work and toughness, something he preached relentlessly throughout his coaching career.

Before leaving for Michigan State, Mark Dantonio headed up UC's Bearcats. In 2006 they offered Jason Kelce a preferred walk-on spot as a linebacker.
Before leaving for Michigan State, Mark Dantonio headed up UC's Bearcats. In 2006 they offered Jason Kelce a preferred walk-on spot as a linebacker.

Jason Kelce wasn't the first diamond-in-the-rough Dantonio recruited at UC who became a Philadelphia Eagle. Dantonio also happened upon a two-star recruit playing basketball at Detroit Jesuit, Connor Barwin. He became a tight end for Dantonio then shifted to defensive line under Brian Kelly.

After Michigan State hired Dantonio in November 2006, Jason Kelce continued the transition to center and guard under new coach Kelly. Kelly's offense at the time needed more athleticism from the linemen to be able to roll out. They had to drop weight to fit Kelly's scheme, but Kelce's build and attitude fit fine.

"We were going to a spread offense," Kelly said. "His ability to move and pull and do the things we wanted to do, it was a great fit."

Then-University of Cincinnati head coach Brian Kelly yells instructions during the fourth quarter against Illinois at Nippert Stadium, Nov. 27, 2009. Kelly coached both Jason and Travis Kelce who will play against each other in Super Bowl 57.
Then-University of Cincinnati head coach Brian Kelly yells instructions during the fourth quarter against Illinois at Nippert Stadium, Nov. 27, 2009. Kelly coached both Jason and Travis Kelce who will play against each other in Super Bowl 57.

'He's one of the smartest football players I've ever coached': Butch Jones on Travis Kelce

By 2010, Kelly was gone and Butch Jones was at the helm. Concerned about his size in terms of pro ball, Bearcat No. 60 lobbied Jones to switch him back to linebacker. Jones instead had him stay with the O-line and had him focus on his abilities at center.

He's been a mainstay at the position ever since as a six-time Pro Bowl selection, even though the Patriots did work him out as a fullback before he was drafted. At the 2011 NFL Combine, Jason Kelce had the fastest 40-yard dash of any offensive lineman at 4.89.

"He's one of the smartest football players I've ever coached," Jones said. "It gets back to his competitiveness and his toughness. It's second to none. When you put the smarts and toughness together, that's what you get in Jason Kelce."

'That is an NFL tight end!': Younger brother Travis Kelce makes impression on Brian Kelly

Travis Kelce, 33, was a two-star recruit out of Cleveland Heights as a quarterback. Still, he was 6-foot-5 with athletic ability and an attitude. Kelly famously pointed out the lanky lad taking reps with the quarterbacks in 2008.

To all within earshot, he proclaimed, "That is an NFL tight end!"

Dantonio knew about the younger Kelce while recruiting for Michigan State but the Spartans stopped short of offering him at quarterback.

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"You had to sort of project him to tight end or defensive end," Dantonio said. "I know he went to Cincinnati and excelled and the rest is history."

Cincinnati Bearcats DE Dan Giordano (99), left, running back George Winn (32), TE Travis Kelce (18) and quarterback Brendon Kay (11) celebrate on stage after UC beat Duke 48-43 in the Belk Bowl Dec. 27, 2012. Kelce had the go-ahead touchdown in the game. He was a third-round pick the following spring in the 2013 NFL Draft.
Cincinnati Bearcats DE Dan Giordano (99), left, running back George Winn (32), TE Travis Kelce (18) and quarterback Brendon Kay (11) celebrate on stage after UC beat Duke 48-43 in the Belk Bowl Dec. 27, 2012. Kelce had the go-ahead touchdown in the game. He was a third-round pick the following spring in the 2013 NFL Draft.

Kelly would keep Kelce at quarterback using him as an occasional "Wildcat" option near the goal line, something the Chiefs have done every now and then.

"We saw him as an athlete that could do a lot of things for us," Kelly said. "I think in his first game against Rutgers he had a couple touchdowns."

Kelly was careful not to immediately move the younger Kelce to tight end, instead making it gradual.

How Travis Kelce went from suspension to team leader at Cincinnati

Ahead of the Bearcats' 2009 Sugar Bowl against Florida, Kelly left to coach Notre Dame. Before that game, UC announced Travis Kelce's suspension for the upcoming season for violating team rules, which was later determined to be a positive marijuana test.

When Travis returned in 2011, Jones was at the helm of the Bearcats, his older brother was keeping him on the straight and narrow and he was a full-time tight end. The former three-sport Cleveland Heights standout caught 11 balls in 2011, then 45 in 2022 with eight touchdowns.

"In all of my years of coaching, I've never had an individual change his ways, change his outlook, change his lifestyle, change anything like Travis has," Jones said.

Jones had a group of retired military trainers come in to assess his team and pick out leaders. The current Arkansas State and former Tennessee coach said they've never failed in their recommendations of leaders through shared adversity. Jones remembered looking at the trainers in shock as they rated Travis Kelce as his team leader.

"They try to expose you," Jones said. "The leader said, 'He's got influence, coach. They go how he goes.' They were 100% right. His senior year was remarkable."

Travis Kelce's Chiefs have never lost against Jason Kelce's Eagles

The blue-collar toughness of the family shows as neither Kelce was a celebrated first-round pick. Both overcame odds in college and in the pros to become among the all-time best at their positions. Since the brothers have been in the league, their teams have met three times, with the Chiefs winning each game. The latest gathering was Oct. 3, 2021, a 42-30 Kansas City win at Lincoln Financial Field and the last duel between Jalen Hurts and Patrick Mahomes at quarterback.

Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce, left, and his brother, Eagles center Jason Kelce, exchange jerseys following a game in Kansas City, Sunday, Sept. 17, 2017.
Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce, left, and his brother, Eagles center Jason Kelce, exchange jerseys following a game in Kansas City, Sunday, Sept. 17, 2017.

Hurts threw for 387 yards and ran for 47 behind Jason Kelce's line but Mahomes was 24-of-30 for five touchdowns in the Chiefs' victory with four completions to Travis Kelce.

Travis Kelce's eight Pro Bowl selections give the family 14 Pro Bowls, a pair of Super Bowl championships and likely a triumphant 58-mile drive from Cleveland Heights to Canton someday to the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Both have returned to Cincinnati periodically to take in Bearcat games. Travis Kelce was in Dallas for UC's College Football Playoff semifinal in the 2021 Cotton Bowl vs. Alabama, along with teammate Mahomes.

Due to their personalities, their careers will go on long past the playing field. Recently, they've started a podcast called "New Heights," a once-a-week offering on Apple podcasts where they're labeled "football's funniest family duo." Their topics have varied between Buffalo's Damar Hamlin, retired tight end Rob Gronkowski, Waffle House and alien conspiracies.

Eagles quarterback Jalen Hurts, pictured center, joins Jason Kelce (left) and Travis Kelce as the first guest on the sports podcast "New Heights with Jason & Travis Kelce," a JUKES original production from Wave Sports + Entertainment.
Eagles quarterback Jalen Hurts, pictured center, joins Jason Kelce (left) and Travis Kelce as the first guest on the sports podcast "New Heights with Jason & Travis Kelce," a JUKES original production from Wave Sports + Entertainment.

Spirited combat between the Kelce brothers

There's rarely been a dull moment between the two brothers. If a scuffle broke out at a Bearcat practice, odds are Jason Kelce was involved. Media would sometimes try to guess at which point in practice the melee would begin. The Eagles center was one of UC's most prolific helmet throwers.

Travis Kelce was also known for his ferocious play as coach Jones could attest. All know his talents as a receiver but he was also pretty good at taking his 250 pounds to move the opposition forcefully out of the way. Referees would often pre-warn Jones to keep a handle on his tight end.

"I would have officials come up to me before the game and say, 'You need to help us control No. 18 today,'" Jones said. "'He's borderline on every play. We're going to need your help.' I would just look at them and smile at them because the opposing coach must have said something. That was Travis."

Donna Kelce supporting Philadelphia Eagles, Kansas City Chiefs in 2023 Super Bowl

On Feb. 12, Donna Kelce will again be supporting two sons in her custom-made double jersey. It's a combination of Jason's No. 62 for the Eagles and No. 87 for Travis. The jersey could accompany Ed and Donna's boys to Canton someday.

Rather than pick a squad, Mrs. Kelce has said she pulls for both offenses. Her competitive sons typically give her a reason to cheer.

"Even when they were at Cincinnati, there was a competitiveness that was there," Kelly said. "They love each other, don't get me wrong. But, these two were as competitive as any two guys that I've had. As brothers, they didn't hide it. They're going to be pulling for each other in only one fashion: that they get to beat each other. It'll be quite a matchup."

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Said Jones, "What's kept their longevity is obviously they work very hard in the offseason. But, that internal drive, that competitive drive, they're always competing with each other to be better than they were the previous year. They're just gritty, tough, hard-nosed good teammates that play with a lot of energy and passion. It's fun to watch. They're the personalities of their team. You talk about two proud parents."

This article originally appeared on Cincinnati Enquirer: Jason Kelce, Travis Kelce: Brothers will meet in Super Bowl 57