By LARRY VAUGHT
It was only fitting that Jacob Tamme found out he was going into the Kentucky Athletics Hall of Fame thanks to a phone call from UK athletics director Mitch Barnhart.
After all, if not for Barnhart there is a great chance Tamme would never have been at Kentucky to become an all-Southeastern Conference tight end before playing nine years in the NFL that included being part of three Super Bowl teams.
Tamme had been offered a Kentucky scholarship by coach Guy Morriss. However, the weekend he was set to commit his Boyle County Rebels had a 42-game win streak snapped by rival Danville. Rather than go to the UK game the next day and commit, Tamme stayed in Danville. Louisville receiver Keenan Burton did visit UK, made his verbal commitment and when Tamme called to commit on Monday he was told there was not a scholarship for him.
Fast forward a few months and Morriss left UK to take the job at Baylor. That’s when the Barnhart-Tamme bond started.
“I thought maybe there would be a chance, even with UK on probation, for it to still work out that I could play at Kentucky after coach Morriss left,” said Tamme. “I was just a high school senior and I really wanted to go to UK, so I called the AD that I didn’t even know and told him that.
“The great part is that he did let coach (Rich) Brooks know that when he got the job. So did (Boyle County) coach (Chuck) Smith who probably called 15 times a day after coach Brooks was hired. They might have given me a scholarship out of pity just to stop the phone calls from Boyle County. We were in it together and I am so thankful I got to be part of Kentucky football.”
Tamme had 133 catches for 1,417 yards, most ever by a UK tight end, and was on the teams that won Music City Bowl games in 2006 and 2007. He earned academic All-America honors as well as All-America honors for his play. He was the SEC Scholar Athlete of the Year and won the Bobby Bowden Award as the Fellowship of Christian Athletes National Player of the Year.
“We had a couple of rough transition years with coach Brooks but Mitch was as gung-ho as anybody to get it going right,” Tamme said. “He trusted coach Brooks to get the job done, and we did get it going.”
Tamme considers Barnhart a friend and the UK athletics director obviously feels the same way because he removed himself from the vote about Tamme going into the Hall of Fame.
“I consider him a person I looked up to during my UK career. I have tremendous respect for the way he leads,” Tamme said. “He truly does care about student-athletes. He has a tough, demanding job but at the end of the day if he has to make a tough call he always tries to make sure the student-athlete is put first.
“I just have a large amount of respect for him and the job he does. It was so great to get that call from him.”
Tamme was a bit surprised when he got the call from Barnhart because his NFL career didn’t end until last year. He knew former UK teammate Wesley Woodyard had been inducted into the Hall of Fame last year and thought eventually several players off his UK teams might get inducted.
“But it is such a selective thing. One player at most from each sport goes in each year and there is a lot of history there behind me and going back for a long time. That’s why makes it so special,” Tamme said.