By LARRY VAUGHT
Nikolas Ognenovic just happened to have tight end C.J. Conrad as his host during his summer visit to Kentucky. Conrad, of course, is one of the top tight ends in the Southeastern Conference — and nation — going into this season and Kentucky coaches would like to believe that the 6-6 Ognenovic will eventually be the same way.
The Cardinal Gibbons (Fla.) High School senior is one of Kentucky’s verbal commits in the 2019 recruiting class along with his current teammate, quarterback Nik Scalzo.
“Kentucky just felt like home to me every time I was there,” said Ognenovic. “Everybody was just amazing.”
As soon as Scalzo committed to UK, he said he intended to convince the tight end to do the same. However, Ognenovic said Scalzo is not why he will be coming to UK.
“At the end of the day, it has to be your decision because nobody is impacted by the decision like you will be,” Ognenovic said. “He (Scalzo) did try to get me to come. I wanted to get it done before our season started but wasn’t sure I would. Then I got things narrowed down and just knew Kentucky was the right fit for me and went with it.
“They are a good team in the SEC. I don’t think a lot of people really notice that yet. They have new facilities a lot of people look at but you have to look at the coaches, too. Everybody on the staff is so genuine and the relationships you build are very important. That’s why they are having the success they are.”
Ognenovic made sure his family was on-board with his decision. His mother, sister, father and step-mother all made the trip to UK with him because he wanted all of them to also see what Kentucky had to offer.
“I knew Kentucky was one of my top schools. I had not made my decision and if I ended up there, I wanted them to see it with me,” the Florida tight end said. “They all loved it, too.”
How much did they love it? His 14-year-old sister, Nadine, already wants to go to Kentucky. She’s a soccer, basketball and volleyball player.
“My parents actually say she is the best athlete in the family,” Ognenovic said. “I say she is just to make her feel good about it. We compete all the time. It’s not like we go at each other but we do it to help each other get better. If I am going to a workout, I might say, ‘Come on. Let’s go work on your footwork.’ Just stuff like that.”
He drives a truck and keeps a soccer goal, soccer ball, football and two pairs of cleats in the back. He played soccer when he was young and is always ready to compete with his sister.
He also played basketball before football “grabbed my heart” and he went to just one sport.
“Basketball helped me with just being athletic overall and moving better,” he said. “I feel more athletic than most tight ends. I try to be a great overall tight end. I can always improve my blocking. I believe I can be a great receiver. I have had good receivers in front of me (one reason he had only eight catches for 57 yards and one score last season) and I have real good coaches. At UK, I believe I can be a great overall tight end with the help of coach (Eddie) Gran and coach (Vince) Marrow.”
Marrow is UK’s recruiting coordinator but he’s also the tight ends coach and a former NFL tight end, something that Ognenovic really liked.
“He knows what it is like to be tight end,” Ognenovic said. “It is amazing what he has done with C.J. and Justin (Rigg). Both of them are really good. I just want to work hard and want him (Marrow) to coach me and make me the best person and player I can be.”
Ognenovic says he likes to have fun — in and out of school — and is “cool with everybody” he’s around.
“I am very outgoing. I am not loud but not quiet,” the Florida tight end said. “I just enjoy life. I just cruise. But I am very energetic. It just depends on the time and place.”
Ognenovic knows it will be a culture shock when he gets to Kentucky. He had never been to the Bluegrass before his recruiting trips and knows the climate will be a lot different than Florida.
“I haven’t really experienced cold or any of that,” he laughed and said. “I have not seen snow. Or maybe I did when I was like 2 years old and can’t remember.”
Unlike some players from Florida that come to Kentucky, he does have a winter coat. He was supposed to go to Rochester, N.Y., where he has family and got a coat then he can bring to Kentucky.
“Living in different places allows you to be a diverse human being,” Ognenovic said. “In the real world you have to experience it all and living in Kentucky definitely will be something different for me.”
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