LEXINGTON, Ky. — Keaton Upshaw stepped up on and off the field for the University of Kentucky’s football team last fall.
The sophomore tight end from Lima Senior caught a career-best 16 passes, led the Wildcats’ sometimes struggling passing game with three touchdown catches and gained confidence that he could play at a high level in the Southeastern Conference.
“I felt like it was the beginning for me. I feel like I’ve got a lot more work to do and improve on a lot of stuff. I’m just more confident. I’ve got my confidence up. I just feel like I’m more ready and prepared this year,” he said recently.
“I’m just going to try to improve my blocking. Just play my game, just go out there and play my game, just let the game come to me.”
Upshaw also became a leader off the field when his best friend on Kentucky’s team, linebacker Chris Oats, suffered a serious unspecified physical problem in May and spent months in the hospital and a rehab facility. It wasn’t until late January that he was able to stand on his own for the first time since his medical emergency.
Upshaw’s response to his friend’s situation was to organize a GoFundMe to help Oats and his family pay some of the bills they faced.
That fund, which can be found at https://www.gofundme.com/f/22oatsstrong, has raised nearly $44,000 of its $50,000 goal.
“That was my best friend. Since we got here he was the guy I got closest to. UK helped me put it together,” Upshaw said. “They went through the whole process with me and told me how it would help him.”
Upshaw has been pleasantly surprised at the success the fund has had.
“I was surprised, like everybody else. I didn’t think it was going to get that high. I was very surprised. I hope it gets to the amount we wanted it to. It shows a lot of people really care about him and are trying to help him out in this process,” he said.
“He got to a game and I went to see him two times at his house (in Cincinnati). He’s doing real good. He’s just got to keep working with his treatment stuff and I think he will be good. It’s just a long process but he’ll get there.”
Kentucky (5-6, 4-6 SEC) had only seven passing touchdowns all season in 2020. It will have a new quarterback this season, a transfer wide receiver who can make explosive plays and a new offensive coordinator.
Liam Coen, who was the assistant quarterbacks coach for the Los Angeles Rams, will be the Wildcats’ new offensive coordinator. His No. 1 goal will be to rejuvenate a Kentucky passing game wich has ranked No. 122, No. 126 and No. 120 nationally the last three seasons.
“I really like this coach, I really like him a lot. He’s bringing in a good offense. He’s a big tight end guy. You will see a lot of two tight ends sets. I think it’s going to be a really good season this year,” Upshaw said.
A Louisville Courier-Journal story earlier this year predicted Upshaw could be an important part of a Kentucky turnaround on offense.
It said, “Little about the Wildcats offense went right in 2020 but the emergence of third-year sophomore tight end Keaton Upshaw was one of the few bright spots.”
Kentucky added two Big Ten transfers in former Nebraska wide receiver Wan’Dale Robinson and former Penn State quarterback Will Levis this winter.
Robinson caught 51 passes in eight games last season for the Cornhuskers. Levis had more than twice as many rushes (133) than passes (61) in two seasons at Penn State.