FEATURE: A Studious Leader
Sept. 22, 2016
Story Featured in the Ole Miss vs. Alabama Football Game Program (Sept. 17)
In the first practice after Ole Miss’ disappointing loss to Florida State, the Rebels worked for an hour and thirty minutes. Senior quarterback Chad Kelly was not finished practicing yet. For the next 30 minutes after most of the team had left the practice field, the Buffalo, New York, native threw pass after pass to his receivers.
Every team needs the vocal person to scream in the huddle and get teammates excited. Teams also need the player that will show up every day and give it their best. Few players can outwork Kelly. Earning the Sugar Bowl MVP last season did not give Kelly an ounce of complacency.
“Every day you go out on the field it’s a competition,” Kelly said. “You have to go out with that mindset that you have to get better every day. That’s every snap and every time that you get on the field.”
Kelly has always had that mindset to outwork people, but he’s a senior now. That makes everything he does that much more intense because it’s his last time.
“This being my last year heightens everything, the awareness, the leadership and the playing,” Kelly said. “It all has to come around, especially with it being my senior year. I have to work hard throughout the year and make it a great year.”
Preparing for a football game goes beyond working hard on the practice field. Kelly works just as hard to prepare mentally for each game by watching as much film as he can fit into his schedule.
“I carry my iPad everywhere I go,” Kelly mentioned. “Anytime I’m not doing anything or I feel like I’m not getting better, I have to pull that iPad out and keep watching film. There’s always someone that is trying to outwork you. I have to make sure I keep that mentally to keep on working.”
A quarterback will always have a leadership role on a football team, but Kelly’s is earned by his work ethic. His days revolve around the game of football and winning games for Ole Miss. It’s easy for teammates to follow someone they can see putting in the hours to get better.
“When I wake up, football is on my mind 24/7,” Kelly noted. Every day, you’re fighting every single rep to be the best. That’s how you get better, having a competitive mindset every single day. I want to win every drill.”
A common theme with Kelly is competition. His effort is not lost on the coaching staff. They see that Kelly means what he says about wanting to win every drill.
“He is a competitive dude and he wants to play in high-profile games,” Ole Miss head coach Hugh Freeze said. “He is hungry, determined, studying hard, and preparing himself.”
Freeze brought in the East Mississippi Community College quarterback before the 2015 season despite some questions about his past. Since arriving in Oxford, Kelly has done nothing but work to be the best quarterback possible. Kelly had no intention of letting this opportunity slip by him.
He won the starting job early in the 2015 season, and proceeded to break 14 school records and lead Ole Miss to the Sugar Bowl. It was apparent that Freeze made the right call to bring Kelly to Oxford.
“Teammates look at you as more of a leader,” Kelly said. “Last year, every day was a competition. I still have to come to work every single day and not take a day off.”
This year, he did not have a starting spot to earn, already cementing his status as QB No. 1. He’s the face, and deservedly so, of an SEC football team and the best quarterback in the SEC.
“It’s a blessing to be in this position,” Kelly said. “I’ve got to come to work every single day if I want to make the best of this opportunity. Having special people like my coaches and teammates around me is a special feeling.”
More important than football though, he’s been an exemplary person while at Ole Miss. He’s twice made the trip to Haiti on mission trips, forgoing his spring break. The football team invited a cystic fibrosis patient, Madison Manning, to spend the day with the football team. His mother mentioned about how special Kelly made the day for her son by spending time with him.
Social media commonly refers to him as “Swag Kelly” because of some things in his past. For Kelly, those things are just that, in the past. He is just Ole Miss starting quarterback Chad Kelly.
“I’m trying to move past that,” Kelly said. “It is what it is. I brought it upon myself. I’m just trying to be Chad from Buffalo, New York. That’s it.”
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