FAYETTEVILLE — Blake Kern could have gone to a smaller college out of Lamar High School, but opted to attend the University of Arkansas as a walk-on tight end.
Kern was awarded a scholarship prior to last season and now is in a position to see extensive action as a senior. Following Monday’s practice Kern talked about being a Razorback.
“First off, I mean I’ve lived a dream here that I’ve lived since I was a little kid,” Kern said. “Coming to games up here and stuff like that. I could not put myself in this situation. You know I’m from a small town. Whenever I go home I see the appreciation and I try to appreciate the people back home. I’ve got a lot of people that support me and I’ve got great grandparents, grandma, grandpa that all support me. So I feel like my support system is something I couldn’t ask for me of. That kind of keeps me going. And being here as long as I’ve been here just living the dream every day. That’s kind of where I’m at as a player and as a person.”
Kern feels he’s ready to take the next step and hopes to do that this fall.
“I definitely feel like I’m ready,” Kern said. “I mean physically I feel like I’m the best I’ve ever been. I feel like Coach Walker and his staff in the off season put me on the track to play in the SEC, like in a role as a traditional tight end and stuff like that. I feel like with my weight being where it is, I feel like I’m a threat not only in the run game, as I have been in the past as an in-line tight end blocking, I feel like I can get out on the perimeter and make some plays to help this team. I feel like we have a couple of guys who can do that as well.”
What would it mean to catch some passes and help the Hogs get some wins in the SEC?
“Man, that would be awesome,” Kern said. “I feel like I talk about it every day with the people I’m close with. The expectation for me is what I set myself to be. Obviously I want to catch passes and I want to do that, but I want to help this team. That’s the expectation I have for myself every day. It’s not about me. It’s about the team and what I can do to help them. So, whatever they ask me to do, I’m going to do that to the best of my ability and hopefully it works out for me. But at the same time I bought into that and that’s my [MO] every day.”
What part of your game do you feel you need to work on the most?
“I feel like every since I’ve gotten here in-line blocking has been my forte, let’s say,” Kern said. “Special teams is something that obviously I prided myself on the past and I continue to do that with my daily approach to this team, and I feel like catching passes is something that I haven’t done a lot of, but I really do look forward to, in this scheme that we’re in now, get on the edge and just kind of progress as a pass-catcher, too. And I’m not saying it’s one of my strengths, but I’m not saying it’s a weakness either.”
Kern is playing for a new position’s coach in Jon Cooper this fall after being coached by Barry Lunney Jr. previously. Kern talked about what it’s like playing tight end in this offense compared to the previous one.
“I see a lot of the same things just as far as our role on the team,” Kern said. “I think we’re going to be split out a lot. I think we’re going to be asked to do a lot of things on the perimeter like run routes and block. And obviously a traditional tight end setting with us. We’ve got guys that’ll do that. We’ve got some physical tight ends that are working every day to get better and do what they’re asking us to do.
“From a traditional tight end setting we’ve got a couple of guys that are physical: Nathan Bax, obviously Hudson (Henry). I think that we’re working every day to do what they’re asking us to do between the tackles and I feel like that’s the No. 1 thing for our team is running the ball. I think we’ve taken that and kind of ran with it and trying to do what they’re asking us to do.”
Lunney was a former quarterback while Cooper was an offensive lineman when he played. Has Cooper’s offensive line background shown up in his coaching?
“Definitely,” Kern said. “He brings a lot of knowledge to us as far as ‘O-lineman lingo’ is what he calls it. He understand that kind of stuff and he’s brought that to us. Instead of being a one-dimensional tight end, he brings the dimension of pass-catching and he knowledge of the NFL. And, so, he’s really helped us understand the schemes of what we’re doing at the higher level than just going out there and teaching us why we’re doing what we’re doing. We understand what we’re doing schematically. We’re getting better in that aspect. We’re coming along as far as understanding the offense as a scheme and not our job as a tight end.”
Arkansas continues to experiment with different players at tight end. Among the latest moves has seen offensive tackle Marcus Henderson go out to tight end.
“Man, I feel like we have a bunch of great guys who come in with a great attitude every day,” Kern said. “I mean obviously you know Marcus Henderson, with his O-line background obviously, he’s a big help to us in the run game. I feel like we’re taking steps every day. Blayne Toll, he’s a physical kid. He plays with heart every day as fast as he can go. Same with Marcus. Nathan Bax has turned out to be a physical guy too. Hudson, you know. I feel like yes, we’ve had some additions and we’ve had some people leave but I feel like everybody that’s came in the room has been a good addition to us and has [brought] a good attitude to help us.”
Pittman has continued to say the tight end position is open and has tried various people there. Do the tight ends take that personally when the position is called questionable?
“I mean we know we’re going to be relied on in this offense hugely,” Kern said. “I feel like running the ball, we’ve got some great backs obviously. And we need to come on as a tight end room and I feel like we’re doing that. I feel like physicality is something Coach Pittman has preached to us since the day he got us all in a room and talked to us. Coach Cooper is doing a real good job with that too. I just feel like we’re coming along at a pace that is best for us. By the time we get to Georgia I think we’ll be all right.”
Pittman also said on the radio last week he’s more comfortable with the “11” personnel right now instead of the “12”.
“Yeah, I feel like all of us are kind of eager to get in there and get some 12 personnel and get more tight ends on the field,” Kern said. “Our room is hungry to get on the field and be physical. I feel like in the past couple of weeks we’ve kind of integrated 12 personnel and we keep telling coach Cooper we want some 13 personnel but we haven’t put that in yet. But yeah, all the tight ends on the field, everybody gets pumped up for that in our room. I feel like we’re progressing into a 12 personnel set and the plays we do have in it, we’re going to get in it and it’s going to help us a lot.”
Regardless of who is at tight end they will have Feleipe Franks to throw to them. He has impressed Kern.
“Feleipe has a cannon,” Kern said. “Man, he’s a great player. He’s a great leader. I really enjoy and appreciate what he brings to this football team. He’s a great voice for our football team. And I couldn’t be happier to know Feleipe and for us to have the relationship we have now.”
Kern is very aware of Arkansas’ tradition at tight end with such players as D.J. Williams and Hunter Henry who both won the Mackey Award.
“”Oh, yeah, for sure, for sure,” Kern said. “We have guys every day on our wall that obviously we see every day and we’re aware of that. Yeah, I mean, coming to games, I seen Hunter Henry play and somebody I idolize and D.J. Williams and all them. We’ve had some great ones since then. Jeremy Sprinkle, I played with him. And there’s just guys with him that impacted me that have been in the tight end rooms, and that’s just something that I hope to carry on with the guys that are in there now. Just over the time I’ve been here, the people I’ve met in the tight end room have meant something to me.”
Kern said while many of the players aren’t from inside the state he feels they are all very aware of what it means to be a Razorback.
“I think they know exactly what it means,” Kern said. “I think when they came here and whenever you play for a university like the University of Arkansas and it means so much to everybody around, it’s not a secret that it means so much to everybody. Grant Morgan, in-state, huge. It means the world to him. Jack Lindsey. There’s a lot of guys. You can go down the list and it just means so much to us, and that’s not unnoticed every single day they come to work. I mean, they’re coming to work with a purpose because they’re proud of where they came from. So, I don’t think that Felipe and all them guys, they understand that, because it’s evident every single day when we come to work and it means something to us.”
Kern is listed at 6-foot-4, 269-pounds on the roster.
“I’ve put on about seven or eight pounds since last year,” Kern said. “Like I said, Coach (Jamil) Walker got me in here. We talked about diet. We talked about different things, and I’ve gained about eight pounds of muscle, and I feel like I’m playing at the best weight I have been since I’ve been here. And I just feel like it’s all Coach Walker. He put me in the right position. He gave me the knowledge and I took that and ran with it. So, I’m about 268, 265 on a good day, but, yeah, ever since camp started, we’re just continuing to work on that and just trying to get at a good playing weight.”
Arkansas will return to the practice fields today. They will open the season on Saturday, Sept. 26, in Reynolds Razorback Stadium when Georgia comes to town. The game will kickoff at 3 p.m. and televised on the SEC Network.