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Fear nothing: Chad Kelly

Ole+Miss
JOSHUA MCCOY, OLE MISS ATHLETICS
Ole Miss

Chad Kelly has the words “Fear Nobody” tattooed on his right bicep, which epitomizes the way he plays the game. It also goes hand-in-hand with his football career, his shady past and the scenic route that he has taken to his current position as the Ole Miss starting quarterback.

A highly-touted player out of St. Joseph’s Collegiate Institute in New York, Kelly — who is the nephew of Hall of Fame NFL quarterback, Jim Kelly — led his team to the state championship game in both his junior and senior years.

During his time at St. Joseph’s, head football coach Dennis Gilbert said Kelly played at a different level than those around him.

“But at the same time, he made everybody around him better, not just because of his skill level and all the stuff he could do on the field but the way that he practiced and the effort that he put in every day in practice,” Kelly said. “It was contagious with his teammates.”

From getting to practice 30 minutes early and doing footwork drills with the freshmen, to staying after practice to throw to some of the last receivers off the bench, Gilbert said Kelly was all about helping the team.

“He played as hard on Monday in practice as he did on Saturdays in the game,” Gilbert said.

Gilbert said when he thinks of Kelly’s time at St. Joseph’s, he immediately thinks of his first career start when he was a junior. The team was facing off against its biggest rival, Rochester — the No. 1 team in the state at the time. Kelly had thrown two interceptions in the first half and, on the first drive of the third quarter, he faced a third down and long situation. When he received the snap, he was immediately flushed out of the pocket. 

“He’s getting chased by a kid who plays at Notre Dame now, big kid, about [6-foot-6, 290 pounds],” Gilbert said. “He was on the run, and Chad lets one go down the sideline about 70 yards, and a kid picks it off.”

The defensive back ran it all the way back to the 2-yard line, where Kelly made a touchdown-saving tackle. After the play, Gilbert said Kelly immediately locked eyes with his coach, taking ownership of what he had done. Gilbert said he knew then that Kelly was different.

“I just looked at him and said, ‘Why would you throw that ball?’” Gilbert said. “He says, ‘Coach, because I can throw it farther than Tony can punt it. But I never thought he’d return it all the way down to the goal line.’”

After graduation, Kelly went to Clemson University. Even though the Tigers already had two other quarterbacks with more experience — Tajh Boyd and Cole Stoudt — Kelly made it known he expected to compete for the starting job right away.

Unfortunately, Kelly did not see any playing time his freshman year. After being a redshirt his first season, Kelly only attempted 17 passes his second year.

During this time, Kelly made a variety of questionable off-field decisions that made national news, including publicly taunting Stoudt on Twitter before even arriving on campus.

The last straw, however, came in the spring prior to the 2014 season, when Kelly yelled at Clemson coaches for not attempting a touchdown on fourth down in the Tigers’ annual spring game.

Many defended Kelly’s actions after his fallout with the coaches. His childhood diagnosis of ADHD and his ultra-competitive personality were cited as possible reasons he lashed out.

The coaches acknowledged Kelly’s talents but felt he was not a good fit for the program after the incident and kicked him off the team for “detrimental conduct.” 

“Talent was never the issue,” said Chad Morris, former Clemson offensive coordinator and quarterback coach, to Edward Aschoff of ESPN.com. “I think he had a great, fierce competitive drive. Sometimes your best asset can be your biggest enemy, too.”

Kelly didn’t give up on football after leaving Clemson. His next stop: East Mississippi Community College.

In his one year with the Lions, Kelly dominated opponents. Running a wide-open offense similar to the one he now directs at Ole Miss, Kelly’s gaudy statistics included nearly 4,500 yards of total offense and 52 total touchdowns. With these stats, Kelly proudly led his team to winning every game and the junior college national championship that season.

“He was really a joy to coach,” said Scott Wood, EMCC offensive coordinator. “Great work ethic. He was a guy that stayed in the film room, stayed studying it, always trying to learn more about the game. Tremendous student of the game, just a first-class kid.”

After his year of junior college, Kelly was once again a blue-chip recruit and chose Ole Miss over LSU, Virginia Tech and others. 

But before he set foot on the Ole Miss campus, Kelly was arrested in December 2014 for a confrontation at a nightclub where he allegedly made gun threats.

Kelly said after this experience, he vowed he was a changed man and felt very positive about his future. He said his time at Clemson and East Mississippi Community College humbled him. 

“If someone takes a step into Scooba, Mississippi — that’s a very humbling experience,” Kelly said to Riley Blevins of the Clarion-Ledger. “It really woke me up. You have your teammates, coaches and school here and that’s all. I think I’ve grown a lot. I’ve changed a lot.”

Now in Oxford, Kelly is having a chance to push himself to his full potential. 

With Kelly behind center, the Rebels topped the 70-point plateau in each of their first two games, with the new Ole Miss quarterback leading the offense with expert precision.

During the Alabama game in Tuscaloosa, Kelly helped the team upset the No. 2 Crimson Tide with two key plays. One of the plays, which is a contender for play of the year, saw him corral a bad snap and heave it off of a receiver’s helmet and into Quincy Adeboyejo’s hands for a 66-yard touchdown. 

Since then, the ride has gotten considerably bumpier for the Rebels, who suffered their first SEC loss at Florida and also lost to undefeated Memphis last Saturday. However, Kelly remains as the SEC leader in passing yards and touchdowns.

A&M defensive coordinator John Chavis said the Aggies are aware of what they are up against when they visit The Grove Saturday. 

“He’s got a strong stature and strong arm,” Chavis said Tuesday at the Aggies weekly news conference. “For being new to the SEC, he’s the best starting quarterback we’ve seen yet.”

Coaches and fans alike will have to lookout for what Kelly brings to the table this weekend. From Gilbert’s point of view, Kelly has not even scratched the surface of what he is capable of yet.

“Personally, what everyone is seeing now I think is the tip of the iceberg for him,” Gilbert said. “He just has a phenomenal ability to make plays.”

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  • Ole Miss

    JOSHUA MCCOY,OLE MISS ATHLETICS
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