HawgBeat - Tight end Blake Kern living out a dream at Arkansas
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Tight end Blake Kern living out a dream at Arkansas

Former walk-on tight end Blake Kern.
Former walk-on tight end Blake Kern. (Arkansas Athletics)

Arkansas tight end Blake Kern doesn't have any stats or catches to boast about heading into his senior season but, as a former walk-on, he's already living a dream some don't even get within sniffing distance of. The Lamar, Arkansas native came to Fayetteville as a walk-on, redshirted his first year, but now, he has his school bought and paid for, and he's in the fight to be the starting tight end as a redshirt season.

"I’ve lived a dream here that I’ve had 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 more of."

Kern began seeing the field as a redshirt sophomore in Chad Morris's debut season. He played in 10 games but only got 10 snaps as a tight end–the rest came on special teams.

After a mass exodus of scholarship players during and after the 2018 season, Morris and staff needed to choose walk-ons to award scholarships in order to be able to bring in early enrollees for the next class–Kern was at the top of the list.

The 2019 season brought more opportunities for the tight end. Despite playing behind CJ O'Grady and Grayson Gunter, both signed on scholarship out of high school, Kern got his largest load of snaps yet, 66 at tight end and 150 on special teams. Still, no passes caught–but that doesn't bother him.

"The expectation for me is what I set myself to be," Kern said. "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."

The 6-foot-4, 269-pound tight end grew up watching some legendary Razorback tight ends like DJ Williams and Hunter Henry, and he's played with the likes of Jeremy Sprinkle, so he knows the importance of keeping the elite tight end tradition alive, even if the 2020 room isn't as strong as the coaches would like at the moment.

"There's just guys 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," Kern said. "Just over the time I've been here, the people I've met in the tight end room have meant something to me."

Kern is the most veteran member of the Razorbacks' 2020 tight ends room, now led by former OU and NFL offensive lineman Jon Cooper. The battle for reps in that room has been fierce all fall camp long with Pittman pushing for more physicality and stronger blocking from his guys.

"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. By the time we get to Georgia I think we’ll be alright."

If Arkansas's tight ends can show what the coaches want to see by the time the Georgia game rolls around, their usage could go up, which would benefit them all as a group.

"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. 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."

Kern and the Hogs face Georgia in less than two weeks at home in Fayetteville.