Kellys Share Their Stories of Faith, Perseverance
Feb. 20, 2016
By Joey Jones, Ole Miss Athletics Media Relations
OXFORD, Miss. – On the surface, it’s easy to characterize football icon Jim Kelly and his budding star nephew, Chad Kelly.
Quarterbacks. Good athletes with rocket arms who play with a linebacker’s mentality. Gritty. Hard-nosed. Competitors.
But the stories of these two men go much deeper. And much farther than the game of football.
People who are close to Jim and Chad Kelly already know, but the nearly 800 in attendance at the 2016 Ole Miss Fellowship of Christian Athletes breakfast found out Saturday morning. There is much more to the Kellys than what first meets the eye.
“I wanted to have a son,” Jim Kelly told the crowd. “My wife’s water broke and it was Valentine’s Day, my birthday. We went to the hospital and my wife delivered a boy on Daddy’s birthday. The game plan was already done. The script was written. Hunter would wear No. 12. Play against Chad. But my son was diagnosed with a fatal genetic disease at four months, and he lived to be eight years old. When our son died, that day was the lowest point in my life.”
Uncle Jim went on to talk about how the death of his son Hunter on August 5, 2005 changed his spiritual life forever.
“Number one, I wanted to see my son again, and I knew where he was. Number two, I wanted to be able to walk through the door and for my two daughters to respect who I was. Number three, I wanted to love my wife the way she deserved to be loved. I’ll never forget it was April 22, 2007.”
Fast forward to February 2016.
“I have a beautiful wife, two beautiful daughters, a great nephew here. For many years now I’ve been a Christian, and boy am I happy.”
Uncle Jim, who originally grew up in Pittsburgh and was a big fan of Terry Bradshaw and the Steelers, was the starting quarterback for the University of Miami before a long career as the signal caller for the Buffalo Bills. He took Buffalo to four Super Bowls and was enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2002. He also started the non-profit organization Hunter’s Hope as an advocacy group for the awareness of Krabbe disease, the genetic disease that cost his son his life at such an early age.
Chad, the son of Jim’s brother Kevin, grew up following his uncle’s every move.
“To be able to consider myself close to Uncle Jim and being close to him and all he’s accomplished is surreal,” Chad told the FCA breakfast crowd. “I can’t believe I’m sitting here. This is literally insane. I can’t believe how God is changing my life. I look up to (Jim) every day and hope to come close to what he’s accomplished.”
All Chad did in his first year at Ole Miss was lead the team to its first Sugar Bowl appearance and win since 1970 and guide the Rebels to 10 wins that included victories over Southeastern Conference Western Division rivals Alabama, Auburn, LSU and Mississippi State. He broke or tied 14 single-season Ole Miss records and led the SEC in passing (310.9 yards per game), total offense (349.4 yards per game), touchdown passes (31) and points responsible for (246).
But it might be his off-the-field progress that’s even more impressive than his accolades on the gridiron. Chad has a well-documented past of difficulties that forced him to leave his first school, Clemson, and take the junior college route to East Mississippi Community College before being given another chance by Ole Miss head coach Hugh Freeze.
The chance Freeze took on Chad has paid dividends for everyone.
“Every day I thank the Lord because I’m so blessed with this opportunity,” said Chad, who went on a mission trip to Haiti with some of his teammates and Ole Miss staff last spring break. “It’s just unreal that I’m up here speaking in front of people. A couple of years ago, I wouldn’t have thought this was possible. It’s just wild how God has really changed my life and surrounded me with such great people. I’m so blessed to be in this situation – to have coaches, players and fans that I truly love. It’s such a family. For everybody to be so happy and down to earth and willing to help – what more can you ask for?”
Less known to the public than Chad’s overcoming obstacles on the field is how he has changed as a person since his arrival in Oxford. He is considered a leader in the locker room. He embraces his position as a role model for young children. He credits another difficult family matter for his spiritual awakening.
“Really when God touched me spiritually is when my grandma died around a year ago today,” Chad said. “When she died it really took a lot of my heart out of me. She raised me for a year or two. To see her struggle in the same capacity as Uncle Jim and my cousin Hunter, when I saw her smile and be happy even though she was so hurt, that was the greatest moment. I asked myself what did I have to do to be a great person on and off the field. Ever since then, something just clicked. I’ve had great coaches that have helped me get there. It’s been a team effort.”
The 2015 Ole Miss-Arkansas game conjured a variety of emotions for Ole Miss players and fans – most of them not good. But it was a meeting with a former SEC and NFL quarterback during pregame that offered Chad an indelible memory.
“When I had the opportunity to meet Tim Tebow before the Arkansas game, he said to me, ‘fear or faith.’ Ever since then when I go out on the field I think about that. When you truly understand fear, you shouldn’t have any because the man above has a plan for you. You may not know it, but he has it. As long as God is for you, there’s no one else who can be against you. You have to have faith in everything you do. Never give up because God never gave up on you.”
Jim Kelly, who has survived a pair of bouts with cancer, can attest to not giving up. He also sees how Chad’s faith has grown and his nephew has become someone that a younger generation can admire and emulate.
“I’ve been around here and seen how these kids look up to him and how he acts around him,” Jim said. “It’s amazing to me to see how much he’s grown up in the last couple of years. This is my nephew. This is my godson. This is a man who’s making a difference in young kids’ lives. I am so proud of him.”
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