LAGRANGE — C.J. Conrad’s senior football season was one that players dream about.
Conrad began the year by accepting a Division I scholarship and orally committing to play for Kentucky. Then the 6-foot-5, 225-pound tight end/linebacker had a fantastic season on the field — both as an individual and as a member of the Keystone Wildcats.
Conrad led Keystone with 55 receptions for 742 yards and 10 touchdowns, while adding 76 tackles, five tackles for losses and two interceptions on defense.
Conrad’s performance helped the Wildcats finish with an 8-2 regular-season record and qualify for the Division IV playoffs for the first time in school history. There, despite a very competitive performance, they fell 40-32 to host Bellevue.
The dream season continued Thursday night at Keystone’s football banquet when Conrad was awarded the annual Lorain County Golden Helmet Award, which is presented to the county’s top senior football player.
It was one of several times Conrad was brought up to receive an award Thursday, but they saved the best for last.
“I’m not really into individual awards, but I’ve had this particular award in my mind for a long time now,” Conrad said. “I couldn’t have done it without my teammates, my family, my coaches. I’m definitely honored.
“Making the playoffs for the first time in school history and to be a part of something that no one’s done before is really
cool. Growing up with these guys and playing football and to end it off right here winning this award is really special to me.”
Conrad is the second Keystone player to win the Golden Helmet, joining Wildcats halfback Bob Hyatt, who shared the award with Clearview two-way lineman Gus Mecera in 1972.
“You work hard and everything you do is for this team, and it’s really nice to see all the hard work you put in paying off,” Conrad said. “I’m excited to do it, but I really couldn’t have done it without my teammates. The fact that they were there for me and my coaches, I would not be where I am right now or who I am today without them.”
The Golden Helmet is just the tip of the iceberg for the postseason accolades that have been showered upon Conrad since the end of his high school career. He was named to the All-Ohio second team, and the All-Northeast Lakes district, All-Lorain County and All-Patriot Athletic Conference first teams. He was also named the PAC’s Offensive Player of the Year.
Keystone coach Rob Clarico was understandably proud of Conrad.
“It’s a huge honor,” Clarico said. “I think that, for a long time, Keystone maybe played football in a bit of anonymity. Our success the past few years has brought a lot of people a lot of notoriety, and C.J.’s chief among them. He had a lot to do with our success, along with all of our other players and coaches. But the hard work that he put in when nobody was looking was the thing that nobody really appreciates.
“It’s fun on Friday when you’re out on the field doing a great job, but the work he’s put in for four years really earned this very prestigious award.”
Conrad showed he also put in hard work in the classroom by earning one of the PAC’s Scholar Athlete awards Thursday night. He plans to graduate in January so that he can enroll early at Kentucky.
Until then, he’ll play basketball for Keystone.
“He’s a top-notch student,” Clarico said. “He believes in his studies, first and foremost. He has excellent grades to show for it. I think, for all the focus that’s been on him for two years, he’s retained a sense of humility and remained one of the guys throughout all of it. I just think he’s such a good person and a good student, who goes above and beyond anything that he’s done on the football field.”
Conrad believes that awards such as the Golden Helmet — as well as getting that first taste of playoff football last month — will help him prepare for life in the Southeastern Conference as a Kentucky Wildcat.
“No doubt about it,” Conrad said. “Every postseason award means a lot to me. It shows all the hard work you put in. I’m excited about Kentucky. I’ll be leaving in about a month to start that journey. It’s humbling, but I’m excited. All of this is going to help me in the future.
“I’m ready to help the basketball team out, starting (tonight), for as long as I can, but I’m definitely ready to go and I can’t wait.”
Contact Dan Gilles at 329-7135 or email@example.com.
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