July 19 (UPI) -- Kansas City Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce told UPI his team is "extremely motivated" after last season's AFC Championship loss to the New England Patriots and Tyreek Hill is a "huge piece to the puzzle."
Kelce, 29, is entering his seventh season. He had a career-best 1,336 yards and 10 scores on 103 receptions in his 16 starts in 2018. Kelce also was named an All-Pro for the second time in his career and made his fourth consecutive Pro Bowl.
NFL MVP Patrick Mahomes and Kelce consistently dominated opposing defenses last year, but doubt crept into Arrowhead Stadium after the team released Pro Bowl running back Kareem Hunt in November. Kansas City went on to suffer a brutal loss to the eventual Super Bowl champions in the conference title game.
Allegations of child abuse against Hill surfaced in March, putting the All-Pro pass-catcher's status in doubt for 2019. On Friday the NFL said it would not discipline Hill, following multiple investigations into the allegations. Kelce said the team is ready for Hill -- who had been banned from team activities -- to return.
"It will be good to get him back in the building to work with him and see where this team can go with him on the field, with coach [Andy] Reid dialing up plays," Kelce said. "He is such a huge piece to puzzle in this offense.
"He's an unbelievable player, there is no doubt about that. When he is on the field, you have to account for him. When it comes down to who the main guy is that makes this thing go, outside of Patrick Mahomes, he is definitely up there as one."
"There is a point in the season where you wake up and your body's not going to want to move. That's the NFL for you. That's the sacrifice we all make," Kelce said.
Pain is not something the 6-foot-5, 260-pound tight end likes to talk about. Despite his large frame, Kelce takes as hard a hit as anyone in the NFL. That beating is something former Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski cited when he decided to retire this off-season. It's also something Kelce's brother, Philadelphia Eagles center Jason Kelce, said in May when contemplating how much longer he wants to play.
"The season is a grind. It's up and down. I'm not going to lie and sit here and say every week is the best. Not at all. You go up. You go down. You can take some serious hits," Gronkowski said in February, before the Super Bowl.
"Try to imagine getting hit all the time and trying to be where you want to be every day in life. It's tough. It's difficult. To take hits to the thigh, to take hits to your head, abusing your body isn't what your brain wants."
Unlike Gronkowski, Kelce has been available for his team for the majority of his career. He has missed just one game since his rookie season with the Chiefs. He said one of his keys for staying durable is getting blood flow throughout his body. He uses dry needling, cupping therapy and massages to combat soreness.
"I think what Rob did is he evaluated where he had been in his career with three Super Bowl rings, a good amount of stats and some records on his belt," Kelce said. "I think he realized, 'you know what, my body has taken a toll and my career is done.'
"Hopefully he is OK with it even through his first year being out. I just want him to be comfortable and happy he made the right decision for himself, as I would wish any player."
Kelce and Gronkowski watched each other compete and were considered the two best tight ends in the game throughout their careers. This off-season, Kelce was forced to sit out for mandatory minicamp and OTAs after ankle surgery.
He recently attended a wedding as part of an NFL contest, which awarded a couple the opportunity to have the Chiefs star at their ceremony. The contest is in conjunction with the NFL's 100th season. Kelce danced at the wedding, showing that his ankle is nimble after the surgery. He said he'll be ready for training camp "without a doubt."
"I don't like to say any of us are tougher than the other," Kelce said. "We are all going though the same things on the field in terms of discomfort and soreness and having to play through pain and discomfort. That being said, everybody has their timeline."
Travis Kelce in Your Wedding Party was the second #NFL100 Experiences of a Lifetime contest prize celebrating the NFL's centennial season. The league is paying tribute to fans, players and communities throughout the season with the experiences.
Travis and Jason Kelce entered the league at different times after both playing at the University of Cincinnati. Jason, 31, is entering his ninth season and is widely considered the best center in the game.
He hasn't missed a game since the 2014 season. The two-time All-Pro and his pass-catching brother both have teams with loaded rosters entering the 2019 season, begging for a dream possibility: A Kelce Super Bowl.
"We talk about in terms of, let's have a Kelce Super Bowl," Travis said. "But at the same time, we know how rare that could possibly be. We take it game-by-game with our teammates. We are both very similar in that regard. We take it one step at a time. If it ends up playing out where we meet each other in the Super Bowl, game on."
While it might be a long shot to have both Kelce brothers share the Super Bowl spotlight, it's also pretty rare to have two brothers competing in the NFL at the same time while dominating their respective positions.
Kelce said his Chiefs are "extremely motivated" to be even better in 2019.
"I don't think there is anything anyone should have any hesitation about," Kelce said. "It's a huge competitive group on the field and the coaches, the front office. We got so close to it last year. We are kinda itching to get back out there and run after it again.
"Everyone is motivated and everyone sees how good we can be. Everyone wants to up their game to another level to make sure we get it."