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Teammates reminisce about Jason Kelce and Travis’ college days at Cincinnati as Kelce announces retirement

For those who know Jason and Travis Kelce best, there’s a familiar quality when listening to “New Heights,” the duo’s wildly popular podcast that launched in the fall of 2022. “It’s awesome because I can turn it on and it feels like I’m back in college hanging out with them,” said Craig Carey, a longtime friend and former teammate of both. “I’m not surprised at how successful it is because I lived it.”

The Kelce brothers grew up together in Cleveland Heights, Ohio, less than two years apart in age. But the seeds of their already legendary NFL careers were planted at the University of Cincinnati, where the two became college teammates and roommates. And where they cemented the unique brotherly bond that would forever impact their shared futures, on the field and off. Travis, left, and Jason Kelce were largely unheralded coming out of Cleveland Heights, Ohio. (Courtesy of Cincinnati athletics)

Jason and Travis arrived at Cincinnati in 2006 and 2008, respectively. Both were largely unheralded prospects coming out of high school, Jason in particular, but the outsized personalities that have been on display in recent years were evident to those present back then.

“Those two, it was just insane. Like, holy s—, these guys are crazy,” said Tom DeTemple, a friend and college teammate with the Bearcats. “Those two are really good at drinking beer. They used to love playing Nintendo 64 for hours, smashing the controls and chugging beers at the same time. They would just come up with these random drinking games while playing, and they were incredibly good at it.”

Each had their own distinct characteristics — Jason wore flip flops and listened to country music, Travis was into fashion and hip hop — and there was a clear big brother/little brother dynamic between the two. But both were outgoing and engaging in ways that drew others to them and drew them to each other, particularly on the same college campus, whether at a house party or throwing darts in the back corner of a bar called Uncle Woody’s.

“They are both people persons,” said Reuben Johnson, another mutual friend and former teammate. “They love people, people love them. They have that energy.”

That energy extended to the football field as well, where Jason and Travis burnished the competitive, tough-nosed reputations that helped develop them into NFL Draft picks.

Yet it was the relative obscurity of a nasty, romp-filled college house — where the two spent a year unexpectedly sharing the same bedroom — that helped lay the groundwork for so much of what followed: Super Bowl rings, Hall of Fame resumes, that wildly popular podcast and their culture-spanning stardom.

Following a playoff loss Monday night, it was reported that Jason Kelce informed teammates he plans to retire after 13 seasons and six All-Pro nominations with the Philadelphia Eagles. Travis and the Kansas City Chiefs play Sunday at Buffalo in the divisional round.

The Athletic spoke with more than fifteen of the Kelces’ former Bearcats teammates, coaches and roommates to reminisce about their stint at Cincinnati and its ongoing influence. Also, the beer. So much beer.

The Kelces’ college careers coincided with the rise of Bearcats football, which won at least a share of the Big East championship in 2008, 2009, 2011 and 2012 and reached back-to-back BCS bowls in 2008 and 2009.

Jason arrived at Cincinnati in 2006 as a walk-on linebacker. After a redshirt season in which he earned the scout team defensive player of the year award, Jason switched to offensive line under new head coach Brian Kelly in 2007, where he became a multi-year starter and all-conference honoree.

Travis followed his older brother two years later, joining the Bearcats in 2008 as a 6-foot-6, two-star quarterback who also had scholarship offers to play Division I basketball. He saw the field as a wildcat quarterback as a redshirt freshman in 2009 before ultimately moving to tight end.

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