Wesley Chapel native Tre’ McKitty soon will live out his lifelong dream of becoming a professional football player in the National Football League (NFL).
The local athlete was selected by the Los Angeles Chargers in the third round with the 97th overall pick of the 2021 NFL Draft, on April 30 in Cleveland, Ohio.
The pick occurred on the second day of the three-day, seven-round event broadcast live on national television and radio.
The 22-year-old McKitty is expected to sign a four-year contract in the neighborhood of $4.8 million with an $840,000 signing bonus, based on projections from Spotrac, the largest online sports team and player contract resource.
McKitty grew up playing youth football for the Land O’ Lakes-based South Pasco Predators (while attending Pine View Middle School), and played varsity football and basketball his freshman year at Wesley Chapel High School.
From there, McKitty transferred to Tampa Catholic High School and Bradenton’s IMG Academy, where he established himself as one of the nation’s top tight end prospects in the 2017 recruiting class, with over 30 NCAA Division I FBS scholarship offers.
The 6-foot-4, 246-pound McKitty began his college career Florida State University (FSU), where he caught 50 balls for 520 yards and two touchdowns from 2017 to 2019.
He did all that for a Seminoles program in turmoil, transitioning through three different head coaches (Jimbo Fisher, Willie Taggart and Mike Norvell) while on campus.
McKitty transferred to the University of Georgia for the 2020 campaign— about a month after Norvell was named FSU head coach in December 2019 — as a graduate student eligible to play football immediately after earning a degree in criminology.
An offseason knee injury kept him sidelined for the Bulldogs until mid-October.
He caught six passes for 108 yards and a touchdown in just four games for his new team, which went 8-2 and won the Peach Bowl.
This player is able to adapt
All told, McKitty had to be a quick study throughout his entire college career, playing for four different offensive coordinators — forcing him to get acclimated to varying systems, schemes, terminology, and coaching personalities and styles.
McKitty believes those experiences will serve him well in the pro ranks, which he detailed in an April 30 post-draft Zoom media conference call.
“I think it does nothing but help me,” he said. “Having to pick up something new every year, I think my ability to learn is quick, so I think that will help me a lot. I definitely think that my experience as far as changing offensive coordinators and staffs is going to help me in the future.”
McKitty was noticeably amped and emotional throughout the virtual media call, as reporters peppered him with questions.
“It’s crazy,” he said of being drafted. “Once my phone rang, my heart started beating right away.”
When asked to describe his skill sets, McKitty observed: “Hard worker. Guy that’s going to get it done all three downs. I feel like I’m an all-around tight end.”
Besides pass-catching abilities evident in his statistics, McKitty is regarded for doing dirty work as an in-line run-blocking tight end.
It’s an area of the game he takes particular pride in.
McKitty put it like this: “Blocking, 80% of it is ‘want to,’ so I think I have that dog in me to want to go and put somebody on their back, and then also, it comes down to technique. I have to continue to grow in that, but I think it’s there, and I’m definitely going to improve on that, as well.”
McKitty’s strong blocking skills are something Chargers general manager Tom Telesco also emphasized during a virtual post-draft media conference.
“One of the best things he does is really block at the line of scrimmage,” Telesco said during the media session.
“Very good size, strength, power, good feet to stay on blocks, and he likes to do it, and you can tell. And, he comes from more of a pro-style offense at Georgia, so he’s had to do it.
“That position’s very hard to find in college nowadays — the guys that do it and do it well — and it’s also a big part of our offense moving forward here, is having a tight end that can get on the line of scrimmage and block.”
Telesco acknowledged McKitty wasn’t frequently used in Georgia’s passing game as a receiver “so there’s still some things to work with and develop.”
But, the Chargers lead decisionmaker feels McKitty has the tools to succeed in that arena because “he does have some athletic ability to get out in space and run.”
Added Telesco: “He runs well, he’s smooth. His strength, his size, his frame is going to help us in that position group right now.”
Chargers first-year head coach Brandon Staley echoed many of the general manager’s comments about McKitty during post-draft media interviews.
The coach also pointed out the high-level of competition McKitty faced throughout the Atlantic Coast Conference and Southeastern Conference, as well as strong practices and workouts in the Senior Bowl, a post-season college football all-star game that showcases the best NFL Draft prospects.
“We just felt like we were getting a really good evaluation of the guy and felt like you could really see a projection to a guy that can play that position in the NFL,” Staley said. “We just felt really good about him. …He’s a big guy, so adding size to our offense, that was a big goal.”
McKitty is eager to get started.
“I can’t wait to get to get out to L.A., just can’t wait to be in the city,” he said, also thanking the Chargers for the opportunity. “I want to come in and learn, and do whatever I can to help this team win.”
McKitty will join a busy Chargers position group as one of six rostered tight ends — which also includes 13-year NFL vet and two-time Pro Bowler Jared Cook.
The established player is someone the soon-to-be rookie hopes to learn from in training camp and beyond.
“I’ve been watching him the last few years, that’s one of the tight ends I try to watch film on, so it’s going to be an awesome opportunity and I can’t wait to work with him,” McKitty said.
McKitty joins exclusive company
McKitty represents the highest draftee from The Laker/Lutz News coverage area since Wharton High School/University of Florida cornerback Vernon Hargreaves III was picked by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the first round (11th overall) in the 2016 NFL Draft.
The last local athlete drafted was Gaither High School/Penn State University defensive back Amani Oruwarie, who was taken in the fifth round (146th overall) of the 2019 NFL Draft by the Detroit Lions.
The draft otherwise showed the Sunshine State is king when it comes to producing NFL-level talent.
McKitty was one of 37 players from Florida high schools selected in this year’s draft of 259 players, more than any other state for the third time in four years.
Texas preps produced 33 players selected in the draft, followed by Georgia (21), California (19), Louisiana (13) and North Carolina (10) as the only other states that had at least 10 players selected, respectively.
What other NFL experts are saying about Tre’ McKitty:
Bucky Brooks, NFL.com: “The ultra-athletic pass-catcher didn’t put up big numbers as a collegian, but his physical tools could make him a key contributor at the next level. McKitty’s upside and potential makes him a solid value pick for the Chargers.”
Charlie Campbell, WalterFootball.com: “With his size, speed and athleticism, McKitty has the potential to develop into a starting three-down tight end in the NFL.”
Daniel Popper, The Athletic: “The Chargers need some run-blocking juice in the tight end room, and McKitty will provide that. He is fluid and athletic at 6-foot-4, 246 pounds with the traits to develop into a solid pass-catching option, as well.”
Drae Harris, TheDraftNetwork.com: “Tre’ McKitty aligned as the ‘move tight end’ for the Bulldogs offense. He has good athleticism, as evidenced by his good body control and agility. In the run game, he is willing to stick his face in the trenches and block. He will not be a vertical mover, nor will he create a new line of scrimmage, but he has adequate blocking ability. He is dynamic as a pass-catcher due to his outstanding ‘run after catch ability.’ He had a knee scope just before the start of the season and it is unknown how healthy he was playing in 2020.”
Lance Zierlein, NFL.com: “Pass-catching tight end who can be asked to do some minor positional blocking up front, but he’s better as a move blocker. McKitty’s play speed doesn’t always match his real speed, which is a problem in terms of his separation and ball tracking. He’s better up the seam and on the move than he is getting in and out of breaks. If he can get stronger and learn to play faster as a pass-catcher, he might have a chance as a developmental TE3.”
Steve Muench, ESPN.com: “McKitty shows the ability to create separation and find soft spots in zone coverage. He displays strong hands in traffic and does a good job of plucking the ball away from his frame. He was underutilized during his college career, but he showcased his higher ceiling at the Senior Bowl.”
Published May 12, 2021