With Michael Jackson’s “Wanna Be Starting Something” playing in the background, Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce found himself standing in the middle of a circle of children, smiling, laughing and — of course — dancing.
This was March 2, only a few days after the Chiefs released veteran tight end Anthony Fasano. Kelce was among several Chiefs players participating in Read Across America Day at Operation Breakthrough in Kansas City.
And much like he had all season long, when Kelce captivated the city with his electric play and fun-loving enthusiasm, Kelce — to the surprise of no one — again found himself completely at ease as the center of attention.
“It has started becoming a deal that wherever I go, people just want to see me dance,” Kelce said with a laugh. “I try and keep it for the end zone, but sometimes you’ve got to do what you’ve got to do.”
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The audience — a collection of preschool kids — was much smaller and younger than he was used to, but the fun was the same to Kelce, who was outfitted in a red No. 87 Chiefs jersey as he read to local children during the Chiefs’ most recent community-outreach program.
He even wore a red-and-white striped hat — Cat In The Hat style — because, well, it was Dr. Seuss’ birthday.
“I was just given the opportunity to wear (the hat),” Kelce said. “And (I wanted to look) as goofy as I could look while I’m sounding goofy reading the book. It’s all fun and games.”
Fresh off a breakthrough sophomore season in the NFL, Kelce has had his share of fun this offseason. He even showed off his dance moves at a Professional Bull Riders event in February at Sprint Center.
But his participation in events like Read Across America Day — along with guard Jeff Allen, guard Zach Fulton and center Eric Kush — offers proof that Kelce, a Cleveland Heights, Ohio, native, is also embracing what he considers to be his new home.
The community service event was voluntary for Chiefs players, many of whom don’t live in the city during the offseason.
“I’m a Kansas City citizen; I’m around all the time,” said Kelce, who does in fact live here. “This is my new home, and hopefully, I’ve made a lot of friends in the city. It’s one thing to be a part of an organization. It’s another thing to be a part of the community. That’s my job here, is to be able to reach out and put smiles on people’s faces. That’s why I love doing what I do.”
Both on and off the field.
“It’s always fun being in the community, reaching out to not only the Kansas City faithful, but also people that really don’t know that much about football and seeing the influence it could possibly have on them,” Kelce said. “It’s a fun job. … It’s one of those things where you can kind of just get into it and have some fun with some kids.”
But while the offseason has provided Kelce with a chance to rest up, let loose and live a little, football is never far from his mind.
He says he has continued to work out at the Chiefs’ training facility — which is not mandatory until late April — to improve as a player and rid himself of the sour taste left by the Chiefs’ inability to earn a playoff berth. He was the team’s leading receiver last season, with 67 catches for 862 yards and five touchdowns.
“That’s why I’m not a big fan of Pro Bowl berths or all-league votes, because football is a team sport,” Kelce said. “You can’t find another sport where you’ve got 11 guys on the field and everyone has to be clicking to have continued success. Obviously, all my successes are because other guys are doing their job, too, so I can’t take credit for the type of season I had.
“I’m grateful and I feel like I did my job to a certain degree, but there’s always room to work; there’s always room to improve.”
The Chiefs are banking on that, as they released Fasano, a veteran starter at Kelce’s position the last two years, on Feb. 26 to create $2 million in cap space.
The Chiefs didn’t necessarily need to free up playing time for Kelce — the two shared the field plenty last year — but Kelce said Fasano, who has already signed with the Tennessee Titans, will be missed.
“Fasano’s a great dude,” Kelce said. “He’s helped me out more than anybody in the organization has. … He kind of presented a structure of which the game was meant to be played and viewed, both mentally and physically, every single day. He showed me how to do your due diligence, go out there and be a professional.”
The 6-foot-5, 260-pound Kelce — who essentially had his rookie year wiped out due to a knee injury in 2013 — is confident he is ready for the additional responsibility.
“Without a doubt,” Kelce said. “(Coach Andy) Reid always says next man up. … I was drafted in the third round two years ago to be a tight end in this offense. No matter what happens I’ll be ready, whether I’m the main guy on every single play or a side (option) that helps us get the ball down the field.”
The process of being ready starts with striving for a deeper understanding of the playbook and concepts in Reid’s voluminous offense.
“You have to play the game off the fundamentals and instincts you practice every single day,” Kelce said. “I feel like I’ve been able to bank on a lot of my instincts, and a guy like Fasano has helped me become a lot more fundamentally sound.
“But (I know) I can’t get away with just pure athleticism anymore. It’s been my strength to play off instincts, but at the same time, you work every single day to become a complete football player. It’s no joke.”
Kelce says his development at this point, compared to where it was a year ago, is night and day.
“Last year, it was a month before (training camp before I could) finally start running routes,” Kelce said. “You can only learn so much in the meeting room before until you actually have to go out there and do your job.
“This year, I’ve got an entire season under my belt. I’m much more confident, much more durable in terms of my health. It’s going to be fun to play in front of this KC crowd.”
And chances are, when that day finally comes again, Kelce is going to have some dance moves ready to unleash, though he insists they won’t be better than the ones the preschool kids showed him at Operation Breakthrough.
“They’ve got better moves than me — they’re all freestyling,” Kelce said with a laugh. “I don’t know how to freestyle dance; I only know dances I see on the Internet every day.”