SCOOBA — Chad Kelly admits he knew nothing about the East Mississippi Community College football program four months ago.
Next week, he will start at quarterback for the defending National Junior College Athletic Association national champion Lions.
EMCC will open the season Aug. 28 at Southwest Mississippi Community College. The Lions took a break from practice Monday for Media Day Activities on the school’s campus.
“Coach (Buddy) Stephens and coach (offensive coordinator Marcus) Wood reached out to me shortly after everything hit the fan,” Kelly said. “I knew absolutely nothing about this program. The more we talked, the more I was interested. In the end, this is where the next place became.”
Kelly, a native of Buffalo, New York, is the nephew of former Buffalo Bills great Jim Kelly. In February 2012, Kelly chose Clemson over Alabama, Florida State, Michigan State, and Purdue. Clemson coach Dabo Swinney dismissed Kelly from the Clemson team shortly after this season’s spring game. Swinney said the dismissal was for a pattern of conduct detrimental to the team.
“I let down not only my coaches, and teammates, but also Clemson University and all of our fans,” Kelly was quoted by The Associated Press in April. “Most importantly, I’ve let down myself and my family.”
However, it was clear a new home would be best for both parties. Once Stevens made the initial contact, Kelly started researching EMCC.
The first set of highlight tapes gave him a chance to watch last season’s All-American performer Dontreal Pruitt, who threw for 3,939 yards and 45 touchdowns. While Pruitt is now playing for Troy, his impact last season wasn’t lost on Kelly.
“(I found) I can do a lot of things here,” Kelly said. “Everything they do (in this style) really fits my ability. I am excited about a chance to play in game. I am just excited to be playing football again. To fall into a national championship caliber team is indeed a blessing.”
Wood said Kelly has put in extra time to learn the offense as quickly as possible.
“He has done a great job of coming in and fitting in with the guys,” Wood said. “It has been a good situation. He is eager to learn and eager to be back on a football field. We were fortunate everything worked out.”
EMCC has four quarterbacks on its roster. Olive Branch’s Todd Mays, the Mississippi High School Player of the Year in 2011, will return for his second season with the Lions. A year ago, Mays backed up Pruitt and led all of EMCC’s short-yardage situations and played running back.
While Kelly and Mays are sophomores, the roster also includes Madison Central freshman Joseph Willis and Louisville freshman Wyatt Roberts.
“The thing about Todd is he such a competitor and such a team player,” Wood said. “He will have his packages. He was phenomenal in short-yardage last year. We will have him at running back, slotted out as a receiver. He is the type of player who comes in every day and wants to know what he can do to help the team win.”
Mays, who was second on the team with 15 rushing touchdowns last season, said competition has been good in fall camp. He is looking forward to answering the call in multiple roles.
“It is all about winning,” Mays said. “I feel fortunate the coaches have worked with me at so many different positions. They have confidence I can make contributions here and there. You can be looked at by more schools when you have the versatility this offense provides.”
Kelly, who redshirted at Clemson in 2012, tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee in Clemson’s 2013 spring game. He returned to play in five games and was 10 of 17 passing for 58 yards. He rushed 16 times for 117 yards and a touchdown. As a senior at St. Joseph’s Collegiate Institute in Tonawanda, New York, he threw for 3,050 yards and 27 touchdowns and rushed for 991 yards and 14 touchdowns. He was rated the No. 84 player and the No. 4 quarterback in the nation, as well as No. 1 player in New York, by ESPN.com and the No. 101 player and the No. 4 dual-threat quarterback in the nation by 247Sports.com.
Kelly said he has endeared himself to the EMCC spread attack. The coaches have stressed the need to get rid of the football in less than five seconds, with most plays including as many as seven options. The goal for EMCC’s offense, which averaged 62.2 points per game last season, is scoring drives of less than two minutes.
“It is all about read and react,” Kelly said. “You have so many playmakers. I have been told the biggest challenge is getting the ball to as many receivers as possible. The attitude is great around here. Everybody is working hard for another championship. You can tell that is the mind-set.
“I don’t feel a lot of pressure to live up to the expectations (of another championship). The standard is already set around here, and it is very high. There is always some type of pressure, but the thing is to do what you do. You do the things you are coached to do.”
While Kelly looks forward to playing for a close-knit team, he said the love and support of a close-knit family helped him through a difficult time in his life this past spring. With his health improving, Jim Kelly, who is in his second battle with cancer, is expected to make some visits to watch his nephew.
“My family has been very supportive,” Kelly said. “They will be at the first game, the second game, Homecoming, really they will be here all of the time. Jim pretty much has the cancer behind him, so really all of his energies are focused on buying the Buffalo Bills. That is his main priority. But he has always been my biggest fan. He has done a great job of helping coach me as a quarterback, too. He will be at a bunch of games, too, this year. The season will be an exciting time for all of us.”
Follow Scott Walters on Twitter @dispatchscott.
Information from The Associated Press was included in this report.
Scott was sports editor for The Dispatch.